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Altru’s Grand Forks hospital, Devils Lake expansion moving ahead

The Grand Forks project was initially paused in the early months of COVID-19, which disrupted finances for hospitals nationwide.

Altru construction c.jpg
Workers begin their day at the construction site of Altru Health System's new hospital in Grand Forks on Friday morning, March 4, 2022.
Korrie Wenzel / Grand Forks Herald

GRAND FORKS – Construction at Altru’s new Grand Forks hospital is underway once again, with construction crews installing steelwork since January. The project now is on track for completion before the end of 2024.

The hospital is still on a $380 million budget, with 226 inpatient beds — with a wide range of amenities like a negative pressure unit, private neonatal intensive care unit, dedicated trauma operating room and a private trauma elevator linking it to the emergency room.

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It’s tempting to see Altru’s new hospital as a symbol of its emergence from the worst part of the pandemic. The project was initially paused in the early months of COVID-19, which disrupted finances for hospitals nationwide. At Altru, which had just broken ground on the project in June 2019, it was especially poor timing; even before the pandemic, the hospital had already downsized the project to a $250 million, five-story enterprise (a shrinking in scope it would later undo).

“Our COVID numbers on the inpatient side and the outpatient side are definitely moving in the right direction,” said Meghan Compton, an executive vice president and chief clinic operations officer. “Construction getting back underway gives us signs of hope both for the community and for the team of employees that work here.”

RELATED: Altru to begin construction on steel structure of new hospital next month

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And Doug Arvin, executive vice president and chief financial officer, points out that the lessons of the pandemic are woven into the new hospital, too. Most notable is the negative pressure unit — which uses an air pressure imbalance to keep harmful pathogens like viruses from escaping to other parts of the hospital.

“The negative pressure unit — that’s something that was definitely brought on by the learnings from the pandemic that we’re still into a certain extent,” he said.

Altru also is pursuing a future in Devils Lake, where it’s set to purchase land for a future health facility. A spokesperson for Altru revealed this month that the purchase value of the property is estimated at $1.3 million. Right now, Altru leaders say, they’re still working with the community to settle on what expansion could look like. Compton said those discussions could wrap as soon as summer’s end.

“I think right now we’re still in the planning phases to better understand the specific needs and what really needs to be enhanced,” Compton said. “It’s hard to give you a concrete idea of exactly what it would be, but I think we certainly know it’s going to be an enhancement to the services that are offered there today.”

Karen Thingelstad, chairwoman of Altru’s board of directors, said good things are ahead for Altru — and that with a 3.6% operating margin in 2021, it’s positioned well to move ahead for growth in Grand Forks and Devils Lake.

“With both of those projects we’re pretty early into it, but I can tell you where we are from an organization (standpoint),” she said. “And that’s that we are strong.”

Related Topics: ALTRUDEVILS LAKE
Sam Easter is a freelance reporter who has been a regular contributor to the Herald since 2019. He covers a variety of topics, including government and politics.

In 2015, he joined the Herald’s staff as City Hall reporter, covering North Dakota politics at all levels and conducting Herald investigations through early 2018, when he began his freelancing career.

Easter can be reached at samkweaster@gmail.com or via Twitter via @samkweaster.
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