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Sanford gets ready for 'monumental' move to new hospital

Kim Anderson, right, clinical care supervisor and emergency room unit educator, packs education materials with nurse assistant Zach Schmiess on Thursday, July 20, 2017, at Sanford Hospital in north Fargo preparation for the move to the new south Fargo hospital on Tuesday. (Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service)

FARGO — When Sanford Health begins moving the 50 to 70 patients from its downtown hospital to its new hospital in southwest Fargo on Tuesday, it will be the culmination of years of planning and several rehearsals.

The intricate plans are tailored to patients' specific needs — those on ventilators will need a nurse and respiratory therapist riding in the ambulance with them, for example — and encompass contingencies such as major storms and medical emergencies along the way.

Susan Jarvis, a Sanford executive who serves as the "incident commander" during the move, said the first group of patients will leave around 7 a.m. in 12 ambulances.

Staff from Sanford and a specialized moving company called Health Care Relocations began Monday moving some items into the new hospital at 5225 23rd Ave. S. The real crunch began Friday, when they started moving medical equipment and shutting down operating rooms. The move gets more intense Tuesday when critical services that cannot be interrupted are moved, namely the emergency room and patient care.

"It's all hands on deck," Jarvis said. "This is a monumental day for us."

Moving patients will be the most complex part of the move, according to Randy Northey, an executive at Ontario-based Health Care Relocations. "A fully functional hospital that has in-patients can have no gap in the provision of services," he said. Compared to that, moving clinics, which close nights and weekends, is easy, he said.

A big plan

The moving plan is a big, big document that includes detailed checklists and timetables for each of the hospital's departments and procedures for moving each kind of equipment. Sanford staff will do most of the packing and Health Care Relocations staff will do most of the moving.

If the plan were printed out, it would total around 500 pages, Jarvis said.

And that's with as little being moved as possible.

Sanford has spent years purging unnecessary items from the moving list — the hospital will have brand new replacements for them — and digitizing paper documents so staff will not have to haul boxes of paper over, Jarvis said. Equipment left downtown will be redistributed to departments that remain when the hospital becomes a clinic, she said

Some departments will not make the move.

The lab, for example, will stay downtown while the new hospital opens its own lab so equipment and samples already downtown won't have to move, Jarvis said. Many patients will also remain at the downtown hospital if the department caring for them isn't moving, though they may be moved to different floors, she said.

Northey said Health Care Relocations, which moves eight to 10 medical facilities each year in just the U.S., said the top goals when developing a plan to move a hospital are to ensure patient care is never interrupted, risks to patients are mitigated and downtime is minimized.

He said he expects his business to continue expanding; the firm recently got its first European contracts.

"Seems like there's always facilities being rebuilt or redeveloped," he said. "As the population grows and we get better at providing health care, facilities seem to get larger and shinier."


At 5 a.m. Tuesday, the downtown emergency room will wind down operations and only patients arriving earlier will receive care there. At the same moment, the ER at the new hospital will open so patients driving themselves after 5 a.m. will want to head there; if they forget and go downtown, an ambulance will take them to the new hospital.

Jarvis, who oversees emergency, trauma and critical care services during normal times, said Sanford picked 5 a.m. for the move because ER staff have observed that to be the least busy time of day.

At 7 a.m., staff will begin moving patients. Exactly how many won't be known until that day because Sanford doesn't know how many new patients will come in and how many will be ready to be discharged, which depends on their condition.

According to Jarvis, the hospital has been tracking discharges for days and determined it would have to move 50 to 70, not including those recovering from elective surgery, which were not scheduled from Friday onward. "We're going to be doing a roster everyday up until Tuesday morning."

Planners have set aside for the move 12 ambulances, several of which were borrowed from ambulance services around the region; Jarvis said there will be enough ambulances left throughout the region to ensure emergency responses won't be affected. The 15-mile round-trip will take about an hour including the time needed to sanitize equipment for the next patient.

To ensure the move goes smoothly, Sanford's plan accounts for hiccups along the way, according to Jarvis. If a big accident blocked the ambulances' primary route, several other routes have been mapped. If a thunderstorm rolls in, ambulances will use entrances where they can get in close to keep patients out of the rain, and if it's a really bad one that might be dangerous to drive in, drivers will wait it out.

Everyone has practiced the move, Jarvis said, with the incident command center holding a tabletop exercise recently to test staff response to different contingencies and ambulance crews have practiced loading and unloading manikins several times.

Sanford has also planned the move around visiting family members, as well, especially because the children's hospital is one of the departments moving entirely to the new hospital, according to Jarvis. Ambulances carrying young patients will have room for parents to ride along and hospital staff will be available to give parents a ride back to cars parked downtown.

More staff will be on hand to guide family members around the new hospital.

But as big as this move will be, for many staff members it won't be the biggest one they've seen. During the record flood of 2009, the downtown hospital, then known as MeritCare, and its sister hospital on South University Drive, evacuated 183 patients in six hours as a precaution. There was little time to plan that move and patients had to scatter to hospitals much farther afield, such as Minneapolis, Sioux Falls and Bismarck.

Jarvis, who came to work for Sanford here in 2010, said those who were around for the flood still talk about it. "I think that experience for us has been helpful. We refer back to 'We did this during the flood or we did that during the flood,'" she said. "For this move, we've had a lot more time to plan and time to be ready."

Tu-Uyen Tran
Tran is an enterprise reporter with the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began his newspaper career in 1999 as a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, now owned by Forum Communications. He began working for the Forum in September 2014. Tran grew up in Seattle and graduated from the University of Washington.
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