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Rice unveils new master facility plan

Rice Memorial Hospital will consolidate two of its patient units into rooms that can be adapted to varying levels of care under a new overall plan presented Wednesday to the hospital board of directors and approved unanimously. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR — Under a newly developed master facility plan, Rice Memorial Hospital will consolidate two of its patient units into rooms that can be adapted to varying levels of care.

Construction of a new free-standing rehabilitation center also is on the horizon, along with expansion of the inpatient mental health unit.

The proposed projects are contained in a new overall plan presented Wednesday to the hospital board of directors and approved unanimously.

They represent a potential $8.4 million investment in streamlining the hospital’s daily operations and positioning it to expand services that are the most likely candidates for future growth.

Multiple details, including the design, timeline and financing for each project, remain to be worked out and decided.

But with approval of the concept of the plan, the stage is set to begin realigning the hospital’s space with patient needs and demand, Rice officials said.

It’s the first significant project at the city-owned hospital since a $50 million-plus addition and renovation completed almost a decade ago.

“Our utilization has changed dramatically since we finished the major project in 2006,” said Mike Schramm, chief executive of Rice Hospital. “We’ve tried really hard to look at multiple options. We’ve got a large physical plant, so part of the process was trying to think outside the box and be creative, knowing we don’t have unlimited capital.”

Consultants with Perkins + Will and Halsa Advisors were brought in last spring to collect information, brainstorm for ways of addressing the space needs identified for the hospital, and put together a plan with a consensus by hospital leaders.

“We had a lot of interaction with leadership here to understand the strategic priorities of the organization,” said David Chamberlain, a partner with Halsa Advisors.

Demographic and market data indicate that Rice is unlikely to grow beyond its current capacity but nevertheless can take advantage of opportunities where growth is most likely, he said.

Key priorities were to position the hospital for the future, realign space and staffing to make them more cost-effective, create potential for revenue growth, realign the number of inpatient beds with dwindling volume, and address specific needs for services such as medical imaging, rehabilitation and the laboratory.

“We evaluated our process and everything we were doing against these goals,” said Meredith Hayes Gordon, an associate with Perkins + Will. “We did departmental surveys with every department at Rice and we also did interviews.”

One of the most significant findings: With a flattening-out of inpatient volume in the past few years, Rice has more patient beds than it needs, and maintaining specialized units for adult patients and critical care patients has become costly and inefficient.

The new master facility plan calls for consolidating the critical care unit with the adult health unit to create “acuity-adaptable” rooms that can be tailored to multiple levels of care and staffing.

“You can have any kind of patient in this room,” Hayes Gordon said.

This step alone would save about $195,000 in operational costs each year, the consultants estimated.

In the inpatient mental health unit, where beds are consistently full and the need is expected to remain strong, the recommendation is to add four more beds, allowing for increased revenue without compromising staff or operating efficiencies.

The largest of the proposed initiatives, construction of a new $4.9 million rehab center, brings adult and children’s outpatient rehab services under one roof, creating cost savings and opportunities for new revenue. The consultants identified the block south of the hospital, next to the Lakeland Health Center, as the preferred site.

Additional projects include relocation of the laboratory technical space to the former intensive care unit, renovation of the reception and triage area in the emergency room to improve privacy and security, relocation of the information systems department, materials management and the loading dock, and demolition of the Jade Center in the block south of the hospital to make room for more parking.

There was little discussion by hospital board members Wednesday as they took in the details of the consultants’ report. Nor was there discussion about how soon any of the projects might commence, although a proposed timetable suggests all three of the main initiatives could be completed in two to three years.

The hospital’s current five-year capital plan contains $45 million in budgeted spending that could encompass consolidation of the intensive care and adult health units, the addition of four inpatient mental health beds and construction of a new rehab center, as long as the projects are not carried out simultaneously, said Bill Fenske, chief financial officer of Rice.

Spacing them across more than one year would allow the hospital to generate cash from its operations to help pay for the improvements, he said. “The idea is not to have all this construction happen at once.”

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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