GRANITE FALLS — A new family practice physician certified in obstetrics and fluent in Spanish has signed a contract to join the medical staff in Granite Falls when her immigration status is approved.

By year’s end, a new electronic medical system will be installed.

A purchase option has been signed on a 30-acre parcel which someday could be the site of a facility to replace the western Minnesota city’s 1980s-vintage, 25-bed critical care hospital.

These are among the changes coming as representatives of Granite Falls Health and Avera Marshall hosted a Jan. 2 news conference to announce the biggest change: The municipal health system is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center.

“I’m really excited to see the partnership,” said Dr. Mark Eakes, a member of the Granite Falls Health medical staff. “It allows us to have a sustainable health care system in a little town of 3,000. While little hospitals are closing around the country, we’re actually doing well, we’re adding services.”

The city of Granite Falls will continue to own the former Granite Falls Hospital as well as the 48-bed skilled nursing home and 28-unit independent senior living facility. A new entity known as Avera Granite Falls, owned by Avera Marshall, will lease the facilities and real estate, according to Tom Kooiman, Avera Granite Falls administrator.

The new entity is responsible for the long-term debt of the new nursing home, as well as all past, present and future liabilities.

“This is an investment in a long-term continuation of high-quality health care across a huge array of services,’’ said Mayor Dave Smiglewski. “We are making sure we continue with that. By being part of a larger, more robust and really rural-focused system, I think we’re taking the right steps to make that happen here.”

The mayor noted that the partnership also continues to provide local autonomy. A majority of the members of the new entity’s governing board are from the Granite Falls area. The previous board chair of Granite Falls Health, Lavonne Koenen, will serve as the new board’s chair.

Kooiman said changes in health care led Granite Falls Health to seek out a larger partner to assure long-term financial stability and make it possible to continue high-quality care. Granite Falls Health conducted its search in a strong financial position, and considered proposals from four possible partners, according to Kooiman and the mayor.

“To continue to have high-quality health care here has always been our number one concern, and with that the employment that health care brings to our city and to our area,” Mayor Smiglewski said.

Both parties termed the partnership a “good fit,” stating the two shared a similar culture. Mary Maertens, regional president of Avera Marshall, said the relationship benefits the larger system as well. Granite Falls is contiguous to Avera’s 72,000-square-mile geographic service area to the south and west with 300 locations in 100 communities. Granite Falls offers providers who are regional leaders in family practice, emergency care, home health, and geriatric care, she said.

Maertens noted that this has been a rapidly evolving relationship. Granite Falls and Avera Marshall have been partnering in specialty care for more than three years. “We like to go where we’re invited, like to go where we can add value,” Maertens said.

Dr. Eakes pointed out that the relationship had led to the addition of some services in Granite Falls, including a heart failure clinic and a pain clinic. He said he is optimistic that the relationship will help in recruiting and retaining providers. He said the local health system is also growing its own, with staff members undertaking and completing studies to become mid-level providers.

He said it all benefits patients, who he said will otherwise not be disrupted by the change.

“For the average person out there, the only thing that has been changed is our name,” Eakes said. ”You are going to see the same providers doing the same excellent work, working our tails off to take care of you and be part of our community.”