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Modern medicine: Grafton to upgrade 60-year-old hospital with $12 million expansion

Alan O'Neil, CEO of Unity Medical Center in Grafton, reviews plans for a three-floor hospital addition with Kristen Pastorek, surgery supervisor for the operating room. The operating room is original with the 60-year-old building and will be replaced in the new addition. (Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald)1 / 3
Alan O'Neil walks through the 100-square-foot hospital room meant to house patients. The new rooms will be around three times larger. (Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald)2 / 3
Dr. Matthew Viscito, chief medical officer for Unity Medical Center in Grafton, talks about how a new hospital addition will benefit patients from across the region. (Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald)3 / 3

GRAFTON, N.D.—Leaders for a 60-year-old hospital in Grafton hope a $12 million addition will bring the facility into the modern era.

Unity Medical Center plans to break ground on the three-story addition late next summer or in early fall on the west side of the current facility, CEO Alan O'Neil said this week. It's possible construction could wrap up in late 2019.

"It's served the community well, but you need to keep up in this business," he said of the building. "It's a very competitive business and we needed to modernize. Health care is a lot different than what it was 60 years ago."

The current two-story hospital building houses the operating department, patient rooms, physical therapy and rehab services. That building will be repurposed for office space.

The expansion calls for a larger operating department on the first floor, improved and larger patient rooms on the second floor and a third floor that will be used for educational purposes, offices and mechanical rooms. That can be used to facilitate medical students, as well as training for staff, O'Neil said.

The hospital doesn't need to issue bonds for the project but will be working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Bank of North Dakota for financing. The hospital's foundation will raise funds for the project. Forecasts for the hospital's financial future are stable, O'Neil said.

The hospital started working on plans in 2015 to update the facility, which included a hospital expansion. UMC finished a $550,000 renovation project for its clinic in May. That project improved privacy and office space for staff in that building, O'Neil said.

Initial plans called for a $5.5 million hospital expansion that would cover a one-story addition for an operating department, but the three-story project would give the hospital 35,000 square feet of usable space, O'Neil said. The hospital needs to update its smaller patient rooms to better serve patrons, he added.

Keeping up

Walking through the hospital can be like taking a step back in time. The hospital was built in 1956, and many of the facility's features show the building is six decades old.

Overhead lights in the operating rooms are original with the building. Patient rooms are about 100 square feet, and some are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, O'Neil said. Some rooms still are made to hold two patients, which makes it hard to preserve privacy.

"When the patients have visitors, the rooms are so small that (the visitors) spill into the hallways," he said. "Then they can observe everything that is going on."

The expansion will feature patient rooms that are 250 to 300 square feet. The new operating rooms will be six to seven times larger than they are now.

"People's expectations have changed," said Jo Petersen, president of the UMC board. "Years ago, I don't think many people thought much about sharing a room with somebody. I don't think people want to share a room with somebody today."

UMC serves a large area in northeast North Dakota and the region has a stable population, O'Neil said. The goal of the hospital is to provide the best care for patients, physician assistant Sarah Schuster said. The hospital project will serve that purpose.

"Keeping up with the times and keeping up with where medicine is moving to better serve our patients is huge for us," she said. "We want to keep this place open and keep people coming."

People in the region still choose the hospital over others, said Dr. Matthew Viscito, chief medical officer for UMC. It does well with what it has, he said, and an expansion will improve services.

"A new building will give us the opportunity to continue to expand our services and provide more of the care people need in a place they want to get it," he said.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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