Weather Forecast


Growing demand prompts plans for addition to Rice Therapy Suites in Willmar, Minn.

WILLMAR - Nearly two years after opening a new short-term rehabilitation unit at the Rice Care Center, the demand for services is so strong that the facility's owner, Rice Memorial Hospital, is contemplating a $2 million addition to the unit.

"Our utilization has outpaced our expectations," Mike Schramm, chief executive of Rice Memorial Hospital, told the hospital board of directors this week.

A proposal to add more rooms, along with more therapy and gym space, was presented to the hospital board, which gave the go-ahead to start working on construction documents.

The timetable calls for bringing a set of bids to the hospital board in midsummer for final approval to proceed with the project. Construction could start before the end of summer.

The project comes on top of a $6 million, three-year project that started last fall to renovate and expand the Rice Care Center's long-term care and skilled nursing facility. Overall, it marks an effort by the Rice organization to realign its services for older adults to reflect what is expected to be a growing need.

The 23-bed Therapy Suites at Rice was built in 2011. The facility, which won a national design award, provides short-term rehabilitation for older adults who are recovering from a hospitalization or surgery and need therapy before returning to their own home.

Rice officials saw a community need for a short-stay unit but it has been greater than they ever anticipated.

Now that Therapy Suites has been open for almost two years, "we've been able to see what the demand has been," Schramm said. "Demand continues to be strong."

In recent months, patients have had to be turned away because there aren't enough beds, hospital officials said.

The addition being planned to Therapy Suites would remedy this with seven more private rooms, bringing the total to 30.

Therapy and gym space also would be enlarged to keep up with the demand and reduce crowding.

Nursing home beds, which occupy the skilled care portion of the Rice Care Center campus, would remain the same, at 48 rooms, but the number of double rooms will be reduced from seven to two.

Bill Fenske, chief financial officer at Rice, said the Therapy Suites project will be funded through borrowing. The project is estimated to show a 6.2 percent internal rate of return over 10 years.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

(320) 235-1150