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Rice Care Center breaks ground for major $2.9 million addition

Heavy equipment is pictured Wednesday at the site of the new Rice Care Center addition in Willmar. A groundbreaking ceremony was held indoors due to the weather. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- It took the sight of earth-moving equipment outside the Rice Care Center Monday morning for the nursing home's staff to believe a long-awaited construction project was finally under way.

"This is a dream come true," said Diane Hagedorn, director of nursing. "Everybody's excited about this."

Rain drove local dignitaries and nursing home staff indoors Wednesday afternoon for an official groundbreaking ceremony. But the wet weather didn't dampen the mood of anticipation surrounding the start of the project, which has been studied and discussed for at least the past five years.

"It's great to see progress going forward finally," said Troy Barrick, administrator of the Rice Care Center.

Long-term care is a critical piece of the health care continuum and clearly fits into the mission of the Rice Care Center's owner, Rice Memorial Hospital, said Mike Schramm, chief executive of the city-owned hospital.

The demand also is growing for short-term care for residents who need some skilled care or rehabilitation but ultimately are able to return to their own homes, Schramm said.

The goal of the care center project is to create "an environment of care that is going to meet the needs of our residents and families and the community, not only now but well into the future," he told the 30-some people who gathered in the nursing home's dining room Wednesday for the project's official launch.

"The board has very carefully studied this and weighed the decision," Schramm said.

The project hit several snags and delays before the hospital board finalized its plan and voted this past June to proceed with the construction.

Employees who watched the setbacks now are seeing the progress starting to unfold. During Wednesday's ceremony, they and the residents had a chance to view schematic drawings and some of the interior design materials that have already been selected. The project architect, Horty Elving of Minneapolis, specializes in the design of long-term care facilities.

Theresa Moosbrugger, a physical therapy assistant at the Rice Care Center, is looking forward to more space for the therapy department. "It's going to be nice," she said.

Many of the Rice Care Center residents have been eager to see the site preparation and the earth-moving, she said. "They love going back and watching."

The Rice Care Center currently has 13 physical therapy beds, and will be able to increase these to 23 when the new wing opens, Hagedorn said.

"We see a lot of short-stay people. People want to stay in their home and this will provide them with that transition," she said. "We're going to see more opportunities for staffing and new experiences. We get referrals from the Cities, from St. Cloud, asking for placement."

The project has created some initial inconvenience: Because construction will be taking over the Rice Care Center's employee parking lot, a new temporary parking lot must be built, a process that will likely take one month. In the meantime, employees have had to park on neighborhood streets and walk farther.

"It'll be worth it in the end," Moosbrugger said.

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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