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Thief River Falls mental health center ready to expand

A bill that would allow Sanford Thief River Falls Medical Center to expand its inpatient psychiatric facility from 10 to 16 beds to address a space shortage is awaiting final approval from the Minnesota Legislature.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, would allow Sanford to bypass a state moratorium on new hospitals or bed capacity. It has passed both houses and currently is part of an omnibus budget bill that awaits final approval.

In its initial expansion proposal, Sanford said the proposed facility likely would average 15 occupied beds, with the 16th providing assurance that beds would be available when needed.

In 2012, Sanford’s Thief River Falls inpatient psychiatric unit had 471 admissions, with an average stay of 6.2 days. It also turned away 393 admissions, including 347 because of lack of capacity, according to the report.

The bill would require Gov. Mark Dayton’s signature and final approval from the Minnesota Department of Health, which already has given the proposal preliminary approval.

“There’s tremendous bipartisan support for our bill,” said Brian Carlson, CEO of Sanford-TRF. “We’re optimistic we’ll get a favorable review from Department of Health and we’ll get approval from the Legislature.”

The proposed expansion is one of three separate projects totaling $57 million planned or underway at the Thief River Falls healthcare facility:

  •  A new 25-critical-care-bed, 137,000 square-foot hospital building and clinic has been under construction along Minnesota Highway 32 on the south end of Thief River Falls since spring 2012. It is scheduled to open in October.
  •  The existing clinic, located on U.S. Highway 59, will be renovated and used for other purposes once the new clinic opens.
  •  The expanded inpatient psychiatric facility would be located at Sanford’s present downtown Thief River Falls location on LaBree Avenue.

Completion of the entire expansion is tentatively expected by the end of 2015.

“It was inspiring to see the teamwork that made this much-needed expansion a reality,” Fabian said in a news release. “Legislators on both sides of the aisle came together in a spirit of bipartisan cooperation to support Sanford and the many health care facilities, county social services, law enforcement, and county attorneys in our region that backed this bill.”

Kevin Bonham

Kevin Bonham covers regional news, mostly from northeast North Dakota, for the Grand Forks Herald. A North Dakota native who grew up in Mandan and Dickinson, he has been a reporter or an editor with the Herald and Forum Communications for more than 30 years. Find his articles at: He welcomes story ideas via email,, or by phone, (701) 780-1110.  

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