Posted 8/28/13 (Wed)
By Neal A. Shipman
As Watford City’s and McKenzie County’s population has exploded as a result of the increased development of the oil and natural reserves in the county, the board of the McKenzie County Healthcare Systems (MCHS) has remained committed to providing residents of this heavily-impacted region with quality healthcare.
And to meet that goal, the healthcare system will soon be embarking upon the biggest construction project in its 62-year history.
“The Board of Trustees of the McKenzie County Healthcare Systems has made the replacement of our existing hospital and clinic, as well as the renovation of the Good Shepherd Home nursing home, our highest priority,” states Dan Kelly, MCHS chief executive officer. “The focus of our board is to build a healthy community. And a new facility will allow us to do that.”
According to Kelly, the healthcare system intends to break ground in the spring of 2014 on a $55 million project that will include a new 120,000-square foot hospital and clinic, as well as a complete renovation of the nursing home. The new facility will be constructed on the campus of the existing Good Shepherd Home.
The decision to move forward with the new facilities, according to Kelly, is a direct result of the increased demand for healthcare service and the age of the current facilities.
“We are certainly undersized in our current clinic and hospital when it comes to serving the number of patients that we are seeing in our clinic and emergency room,” states Kelly. “And our hospital lab is too small to meet the huge increase in the number of tests that we are running.”
According to Kelly, the new hospital will be a 24-bed critical access facility and will have 12 emergency room treatment bays. The new clinic space will provide for eight exam rooms, as well as space for specialty clinics.
“We’re spending our money wisely when it comes to the new hospital and clinic,” states Kelly. “It is a very efficient design. We’re dedicating the money to meeting patient care and we are allowing for growth into such areas as obstetrics, general surgery, orthopedic surgery and pediatrics.”
But according to Kelly, the biggest improvements that many area residents will welcome are the changes being planned in the Good Shepherd Home.
“We are planning to convert all of the nursing home rooms into private rooms,” stated Kelly. “In addition, we will be designing some of the rooms to accommodate married couples.”
According to Kelly, the new design for the nursing home will be in a neighborhood environment where residents with similar needs will be living in the same area.
And for Patsy Levang, chairman of the MCHS Board of Trustees, the decision by the board to move forward with this project is the right one.
“We’re not looking at this project as a quick fix,” states Levang. “We’re trying to meet the healthcare needs of McKenzie County in the long term.
As someone whose life was saved by the physicians in the emergency room at the McKenzie County Healthcare Systems and by the care that she received there, Levang is passionate about the need for this replacement facility.
And, if the past is any indication of what the future can hold, Levang is distrustful of other healthcare systems’ long-term commitment to the people of Watford City and McKenzie County.
“We’ve seen what has happened in the past,” states Levang. “When an outside entity that owned our clinic and doctors decided to pull out of Watford City several years ago, they gave our board two week’s notice.”
Needless to say, according to Levang, when that healthcare system pulled its clinic out of Watford City, it put the entire community at risk for healthcare.
“At that time, our board made the decision to provide that clinic by hiring the doctors, the staff and all of the equipment,” stated Levang. “It was no small deal to pull it all together and to keep our healthcare system seamless.”
Which is why Levang strongly believes that it is in the county’s best interest to keep the healthcare decisions local.
“When the money isn’t controlled locally, someone else is going to be making the decisions as to what level of healthcare is in this community and how many doctors there are gong to be here,” states Levang. “Our healthcare system board is committed to bringing a full range of care to everyone in the county.”
Just as McKenzie County Healthcare Systems stepped up to the plate to build the new wellness center, Levang says that it was now the right time for the board to move forward with its plans for a new hospital, clinic and remodeling of the nursing home.
“The is no one else who is going to come to Watford City and build a new emergency room with multiple treatment bays, a hospital or a nursing home,” states Levang. “That responsibility falls to us.”
Financing To Come In Phases
Putting together a $55 million financing package to build the new replacement facility is no easy task, but according to Kelly, the process has already begun.
“We will submit an application to the Bank of North Dakota for a $15 million low interest loan,” states Kelly. “And once we secure that loan, we will apply to the U.S.D.A. for a $40 million loan that will allow us to complete the project.
While Kelly is confident that the healthcare system will receive the Bank of North Dakota loan, it is the first step in obtaining the U.S.D.A. loan.
“We have engaged an accounting firm to help us determine the level of debt that we will be able to service,” stated Kelly. “But we already know that without some other form of financial assistance, we don’t have the cash flow to take on a $55 million debt.”
According to Kelly, the healthcare system has looked to the city and to the state to help fund the project and will continue to exam what options are available to secure additional outside funding.
“This is going to take a collaborative effort on the part of the community to bring this project to a reality.”
While Kelly and Levang acknowledge that the healthcare system may be forced to phase the construction project if it cannot come up with the entire $55 million, that is not their first option.
“Phasing the project out over several years is going to ultimately cost more money,” states Kelly. “And it is going to mean that it will not allow us to move some of our services to a central campus, which in turn will result in a less efficient operation.”
Likewise, Levang is committed to seeing the entire project done at one time and is convinced that the public will support the new facility not only because it is a locally-owned and controlled healthcare system that better serves the residents of McKenzie County, but also because it make financial sense that sense to the area’s healthcare dollars working for the citizens of the county.
“I believe that once the community realizes that we are going forward on this all-important stake in our own healthcare future, the support will be there just like it was sixty-two years ago when the McKenzie County Hospital was first built.” states Levang.