GRAFTON – A $20 million construction project at Unity Medical Center has added 36,000 square feet to the 65-year-old Grafton hospital.

Construction on the new addition began in August 2019. Except for the emergency room, the project has been completed.

The Bank of North Dakota and United States Department of Agriculture helped fund the construction project. The agriculture department’s Community Facilities Division provides loans and grants for essential services to communities with a population of fewer than 20,000.

Unity Medical Center, which has a service area of approximately 11,000 people, is an acute care hospital in Grafton, a Walsh County city with a population of about 4,200.

The first floor of the new hospital, which includes rehabilitation services and surgery rooms, opened Feb. 1; the second floor, which houses patients, opened Feb. 17.

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Unity Medical Center has four physicians, a total of nine nurse practitioners and physician's assistants and coordinates with other health care organizations to bring in various specialists, including obstetricians, oncologists and orthopedic surgeons.

The orthopedic surgeons and others who have performed surgeries in the new surgery rooms are impressed with the rooms' size, lighting and equipment, said Kristen Pastorek, UMC surgery manager. The new rooms are a vast improvement over the small, cramped rooms that had lighting original to the construction of the hospital in 1956, she said

“It’s a better surgery experience all around, for the staff and for the patients," Pastorek said. “The providers love this place. Every time they perform a surgery they talk about how great this place is."

During the past three weeks, various procedures have been performed in the new surgery rooms, she said.

Besides the operating rooms, the new surgery area has five preparation and recovery rooms, which like other rooms where patients spend time, are manually disinfected and sterilized with UV light devices.

“It’s a great device for protection control, patient safety,” said Alan O’Neil, Unity Medical Center CEO.

Another feature of the hospital's first floor that improves the experience of patients is the rehabilitation area, which has private treatment rooms located on one side of the main room that also contains exercise equipment. Across from the treatment rooms, large windows let in natural light, something that has been shown to be therapeutic for patients, according to health care experts.

Upstairs, on the hospital’s second floor, the 11 patient rooms also have large windows that let in light.

"The openness and natural light are great for healing,” said Heather Narloch, Unity Medical Center's director of social work.

Other amenities in patients’ rooms include television and window blinds that can be controlled remotely from patents’ beds, a sink for nurses, and two-sided closets, which can be filled with supplies from the hall so patients aren’t disturbed.

The quietness of the second floor, where patient rooms are divided among two hallways, is in stark contrast to the old hospital, which had a cafeteria at one end and generated a lot of traffic, Narloch said.

During initial planning, the hospital was going to be a two-story building with a flat roof, but O’Neil suggested that instead, there be a third floor, to be used for education. That plan was adopted, and the third floor education room will be used for in-house classes and by medical students. The room can be divided into three smaller rooms, depending on the needs of the groups using it.

“We’re really thrilled to get this space,” O’Neil said.

The final part of the Unity Medical Center addition is the emergency room, expected to be completed in late spring or early summer. It will have a triage area, two trauma bays, two general treatment rooms, a nursing station and a pharmacy.

Former patient rooms in the old hospital will be used as emergency rooms until construction on the new ER is completed.

The new hospital addition is good for the entire community, said Dennis Chakua, Unity Medical Center nurse practitioner.

“It makes it a great place to heal.” he said.