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Renville County Hospital reaching out for support

Nathan Blad, interim administrator and CFO, left, and Sara Maher, director of the Renville County Hospital Foundation, stand in one of the Renville County Hospital hallways tha patients must navigate using blue lines and signs to make their way from the medical clinic to laboratory and other services. “I’d like to see our building go from a maze to amazing,’’ said Maher of the proposed building project. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

OLIVIA — Putting the brakes on plans to build a new Renville County Hospital and Clinic facility does not change the need to address the challenges posed by an aged and outdated complex.

If a new facility is not built, the hospital will be spending millions of dollars in upcoming years on essential upgrades to its infrastructure.

“Yes, without a doubt,’’ said Nathan Blad, interim administrator and chief financial officer for the Renville County Hospital and Clinics.

Slowing down the process does give the hospital an opportunity to let the public know why a new facility is being proposed.

It also means there’s time to share the enthusiasm within the hospital’s walls for it, according to Blad and Sara Maher, director of the Renville County Hospital Foundation and communications director.

The two are among those who will be hosting open house sessions in upcoming weeks to solicit feedback from residents. And, said Blad, “we want to explain how excited we are about this project and what it means for them.’’

The slowdown is also giving the hospital the opportunity to pursue financing for a project through the United States Department of Agriculture, Rural Development. Initial plans had looked at issuing revenue bonds, but the hospital board decided in late January that more public outreach was needed, and that it should take the time look at the option of financing through the USDA.

The hospital is looking at an estimated $17 million in construction for a new facility, with an overall project cost of $24 million when land acquisition, financing and professional services are included.

A 30- to 40-acre site is desired in Olivia, which is central to the hospital’s large service area.

Plans call for a 62,000-square-foot facility with a central registration point. It would hold 16 in-patient beds, as compared to 25 now. The design would focus on improving and expanding outpatient services, which are seeing steady growth in demand. It would also hold a fiber optic network and the infrastructure for modern health care technology.

The currently facility is a complex of buildings — the first erected in 1951 — that encloses 58,000 square feet. Roughly 9,000 square feet of the total is devoted to open hallways and scattered storage areas.

The physical layout of the facility is inefficient for operational needs, and downright confusing to patients, according to Blad and Maher.

Clinic patients often follow a blue, painted line and watch for signs stacked with bent arrows to make their way to different labs, X-ray or other services within the complex.

“I’d like to see our building go from a maze to amazing,’’ said Maher.

Blad said the hospital board had looked hard at the possibility of upgrading the facility to meet today’s needs, and learned this: It would require a six-phase project carried out over at least five years to achieve.

Its price tag would be about 15 percent less than a new building, but that difference would come at a big cost. A remodeling project would require closing down various out-patient services as work is carried out, resulting in lost revenues.

An expensive remodeling project would also fail to address key issues. The current facility is landlocked and lacks the parking needed by patients and visitors. The current location also cannot offer space for a heliport, unless upward of $750,000 is for a rooftop port.

Revenues generated by the hospital and clinic operations, existing reserve funds and funds raised as part of a capital campaign would be used to retire the debt. No taxpayer funds would be requested or committed, said Blad.

The hospital has seen six consecutive strong financial years, and is in a very good position to be taking on the project. Several health care providers serving the hospital and clinic recently signed long-term commitments, he said.

He believes that the upgrade would provide long-term benefits to benefit recruitment and retention efforts, which he said remains a top priority.

The project to upgrade the critical-care access hospital is all about improving health care services for the rural area it serves, but it is also an investment in an important economic asset, said Maher. The Renville County Hospital and Clinics is the third largest employer in the county, with 140 employees and an annual payroll of nearly $7.5 million.  

The project would require approval by both the hospital board and Renville County Board of Commissioners. If approved, it’s hoped that construction would get underway in 2014.

Upcoming open houses are planned from 4 to 7 p.m. on the following dates and locations:

March 19, Hector Community Center

March 20, Olivia, Renville County Office Building

March 21, Renville Community Center

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

(320) 214-4335