With new facility comes steady growth for Sanford Health's staff

FARGO -- Sanford Health has added 1,302 new positions at clinics and hospitals in its Fargo region in the past two years. The growth largely reflects the addition of 120 physicians and a merger with North Country Health Services in Bemidji with m...

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FARGO -- Sanford Health has added 1,302 new positions at clinics and hospitals in its Fargo region in the past two years.

The growth largely reflects the addition of 120 physicians and a merger with North Country Health Services in Bemidji with more than 900 employees.

The increase in physicians stems from growth in patient demand and includes 10 hospitalists, who specialize in inpatient care, as well as 12 family practice doctors and nine internal medicine physicians.

The growth in staffing since the merger almost two years ago of Fargo-based MeritCare Health System and Sanford Health, based in Sioux Falls, S.D., comes as Sanford is planning $407 million in new facilities in Fargo-Moorhead.

Sanford is putting its new medical center in southwest Fargo on the fast track and now aims to open it at least six months earlier than originally planned.


"All the stars and the moon have lined up on the plus side," Dennis Millirons, president of Sanford Medical Center in Fargo, said of the faster timeline.

The accelerated schedule means the $360 million medical center near Interstate 94 is expected to open in early 2016 instead of later that year.

The project was moved up to take advantage of lower costs for building materials and a competitive bidding environment from contractors in light of the sluggish economy.

Also, "Interest rates are very favorable right now," Millirons said. "It's a favorable environment to build a big project."

Meanwhile, as plans for new projects in Fargo and Moorhead continue, Sanford soon will start expanding its emergency and trauma care services at its downtown campus in a $1.7 million project.

Even though the renovated ER will become obsolete when the new hospital opens, the improvements are being made because patient volume now is more than twice what the ER department was designed to handle, and growing, Millirons said.

The emergency department sees 55,000 patients a year in space designed to handle 25,000, and ER visits continue to climb.

"It is an incredibly busy place," Millirons said.


Detailed planning for the new, 11-story medical center in southwest Fargo is beginning. Teams have visited new hospitals in other cities to borrow ideas to build the most efficient, state-of-the-art possible, Millirons said.

To improve the flow of staff and supplies, and to increase privacy and reduce noise for patients, separate corridors will separate nurses and other providers from patients and visitors.

Also, services that must be delivered urgently will be clustered together to save time. So surgery, emergency services and cardiac catheter labs, for instance, will be grouped together.

"I think we'll save lives at the end of the day," Millirons said.

In another example, Sanford will have three lab locations once the new projects are finished. Each medical center, downtown and southwest, will have "core" lab facilities to perform tests that require quick turnaround.

But a central lab will be housed in Sanford's South University Drive campus, which also will hold support staff.

Doctors and nurses are working with industrial engineers to design patient flows that are more efficient and can help to provide better patient outcomes, he said.

A new clinic in east Moorhead, located near the 34th Street exit on Interstate 94, carries a price tag of $17 million.


Construction on the clinic will begin in 2013 and finish the next year, said Dr. Bruce Pitts, president of Sanford Clinic in the Fargo region.

Plans for the clinic evolved -- and grew -- following feedback from patients and community leaders in Moorhead.

"We need to grow in Moorhead," Pitts said. "We can't just assume people will keep crossing the river" for medical services in Fargo.

Sanford's clinic in Moorhead, near Concordia College, now includes internal medicine, family medicine, basic pharmacy, lab and X-ray.

The new clinic will include those services and add others, including obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, mental health, more extensive lab and X-ray, as will as outreach visits by specialists.

The new Moorhead clinic also will feature extended hours and be able, in some manner, to accommodate walk-in patients, Pitts said.

Sanford also plans to maintain a clinic presence near its current location, he added, although details haven't been decided.

Physicians added at Sanford Health's Fargo region since 2009:


- 12 orthopedic surgeons, including eight from a merger with Orthopaedic Associates.

- 12 family medicine doctors.

- 10 hospitalists.

- 10 ER doctors, including 7 from a Bemidji hospital merger.

- Nine internal medicine doctors.

This article is by The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. The Forum and the Herald are both Forum Communications Co. newspapers.

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