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RC Hospital and Clinics aim to lead the way in rural health care

onnie Triplet led a contingent of day care children to the groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday for the new RC Hospital and Clinics facility in Olivia, and they got into the act along with dignitaries. She is snapping a photo of Kenley Elfering, Elin Elfering, Emma Tersteg, Addison Latozke (in stroller) and Ella Dietrich with mother and hospital employee Amy Dietrich. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny B

OLIVIA — Well before 330 people joined under a warming sun Tuesday afternoon in a cornfield on the east edge of Olivia, the difference a new facility makes was already known.

In the last one and a half years, the RC Hospital and Clinics added five medical doctors and two physician assistants to its 14-member staff of health care providers.

What is about to emerge on the cornfield certainly had an important role in the successful physician recruitment campaign, Dr. J. Rob Kemp, M.D., and chief of staff, told those who gathered. They joined to break ground on a $24 million project to build a new hospital and health care facility for RC Hospital and Clinics in Olivia.

“This is just the beginning as we continue to strive to become the health care provider of choice for Renville County community members,” said Nathan Blad, CEO of the county-owned hospital and clinic system.

The 62,000-square-foot facility on the south side of U.S. Highway 212 will replace a complex of landlocked buildings in Olivia first erected in 1951. The new Olivia facility will offer 16 beds, two operating rooms, and a clinic with 15 examination rooms and one procedure room. It’s expected to be opened in October 2015.

Dr. Kemp said the promise of the new facilities, and the commitment shown by the investment, certainly bolsters the all-important task of recruiting health care providers in a rural setting.

But speaking afterward, he also emphasized what speakers at the groundbreaking ceremony also frequently mentioned: A willingness of the communities in Renville County to work together to provide the best in health care, and an organization that supports a provider-friendly environment, has the health care facilities positioned well for the future.

The RC Hospital and Clinics board of directors launched the effort to build a new facility only 18 months ago. “We were very fortunate,” said Blad.

The hospital was able to obtain $20 million in low-interest financing and loan guarantees for the project from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development. It also arranged for financing with AgStar Financial Services and committed $1.8 million in funds for the project.

Construction bids were termed very competitive.

The hospital broke the project into 35 separate bid packages, which has made it possible for firms in the area to be awarded work on the project, Blad noted.

Renville County is a leader in agriculture. With the new facility, it has the opportunity to be a leader in rural health care too, said Olivia Mayor Suzanne Hilgert.

“Rural development is a team sport,” said John Monson, senior vice president of investments in rural America for AgStar Financial Services. He said the fact that the county, communities and other entities worked together was very important to making the project possible.

Its rewards will go beyond the obvious health care benefits provided by a modern facility. Health care facilities are usually one of the largest employers in a rural county, and serve as an economic engine to drive other economic growth, Monson pointed out.

RC Hospital and Clinics currently employ 150 full- and part-time workers and that number is not expected to change with the new Olivia facility. There are clinics in Hector and Renville as well.

Blad said there will be improved efficiencies with the new construction, but he believes the biggest difference will be in the quality of care it will now be possible to offer. The goal is to offer rural health care “second to none,” Blad and others said at the groundbreaking.

U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., told those who gathered that the ability to provide rural health care that equals that available in metropolitan areas has a lot to do with legislation that barely was enacted. A one-vote margin in Congress — after hours of debate that ended at 3 a.m. some 10 years ago — made possible the funding for critical-access hospitals such as this one, he pointed out.

And, USDA-Rural Development financing for rural projects is part of the farm bill that was recently passed. “Almost a miracle,” he said of that bill’s long delayed approval.

The focus in Renville County is now on what speakers called the future of rural health care. “It’s so exciting to have this,” said Dr. Kathryn Kelly, who is leading a capital campaign for the hospital. The goal now is to raise funds to purchase and install an MRI machine in the new hospital.

Tom Cherveny

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

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