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Willmar location helps Heartland Orthopedic Specialists take next step

Receptionist Wendy Hoepner greets patients at the new Heartland Orthopedic Specialists clinic in Willmar. The orthopedic group recently moved from ACMC to its own location at 2800 S. First St. to better serve area patients. Tribune photo by Anne Polta

WILLMAR — When the staff sat down with a designer to develop the plan for the new Heartland Orthopedic Specialists clinic in Willmar, they focused on the big things: a location that’s easy to find, one that maximizes the work flow for both staff and patients and includes room for future growth.

But they didn’t overlook the small things either, like making sure patients don’t have to walk far to reach the waiting room, the X-ray room, cast room or the exam rooms.

“It’s really about the care of the patients and having it be patient-friendly. It allows us to provide, I think, a better patient experience,” Dr. Eric Nelson, one of seven orthopedic surgeons in the Alexandria-based practice, said of the new location.

Heartland moved in September to its new site on the upper level of North American State Bank, 2800 S. First St.

The practice provides orthopedic care ranging from treatment for broken bones to sports medicine and joint replacement surgery.

There’s a regional need for this type of care, and the need is not shrinking, Nelson said.

“This location allows us to serve patients in another geographic area.

It allows people to have care in their community.”

Local difficulties in recruiting orthopedic surgeons, who are in high demand nationally, brought the Heartland group to Willmar in 2007 in a partnership with Affiliated Community Medical Centers and Rice Memorial Hospital. At first, the leased space at ACMC was staffed with a part-time receptionist and staff who traveled to Willmar to see patients and perform surgery.

Today the site has 4.4 full-time equivalent staff, making it the largest of Heartland’s locations outside Alexandria. Other sites are in Appleton, Glenwood and Morris.

“We’ve grown, which has been exciting,” said Matt Reinertson, clinical services director of the Willmar site.

The practice now averages 220 surgical cases a year in Willmar and 50 to 70 new patients a month at its Willmar location, he said.

The move to the bank building on South First Street was triggered by ACMC’s addition this year of a second orthopedic surgeon of its own, resulting in the reallocation of clinic space and the end of Heartland’s lease at ACMC.

Moving to another location turned out to be an opportunity to take the practice to the next level, said Nelson and Reinertson.

With their own space, which includes X-ray imaging and a private cast room, the staff can now provide services more directly to Willmar-area patients, said Reinertson. “I think it helped streamline the delivery of care,” he said.

The staff, which includes a nurse, an orthopedic nurse practitioner and Reinertson, who’s a certified athletic trainer, can handle assessments and ongoing and follow-up care. Surgeons with the Heartland group are in town two to three days a week to see patients and perform surgery.

Streamlined access is one of Heartland’s goals. For instance, the practice doesn’t require patients to have a referral before making an appointment (although some health plans may require it). Immediate access is a priority, and with six exam rooms, the staff is able to spend more one-on-one time with patients, Reinertson said.

The move to the new location also brought some added value. Large windows let in lots of natural light to cheer the environment for both patients and staff; there’s even a window in the X-ray room. The practice now has access to North American State Bank’s community room, providing an opportunity to do more patient and community education.

Strategically, having an independent location also will help Heartland strengthen its local identity as a provider of orthopedic care, Nelson said. Down the road, this may open the door to bringing in an orthopedic surgeon to join the practice who’s based full time in Willmar, he said.

The practice’s long-term plan is to maintain a presence in Willmar, Nelson said. “It’s been a great partnership with all of the physicians in Willmar. To have our own space is a fantastic opportunity to make an even greater commitment to the community.”

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.

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