Posted 12/15/15 (Tue)
By Kevin Killough
Despite the year’s first significant snowfall, the grand opening of the Tioga Medical Center drew a crowd Friday, with people coming as far away as Bismarck to participate.
The event included cake and tours of the new facility, with hospital staff on hand to provide education on various health topics.
The standing room only crowd included members of the public, local officials, contractors, and hospital administrators -- all gathered to take stock of the new facility.
“It’s really nice, especially for the elderly,” said Ellen Fox.
Vernon Herfindahl, whose grandparents homesteaded in the area, said the project is a wise investment towards satisfying community needs.
“One thing they always need is hospitals and doctors,” he said.
Tioga Medical Center CEO Randall Pederson recounted from the very beginning how the project unfolded.
“We have built a building that will be here for many years to come,” he said.
It started with a retreat Pederson attended in 2011. Serious consideration was given to a topic that was on everyone’s mind -- how to expand healthcare services in Tioga and bring all facilities at TMC under one roof.
Over the next three years before the groundbreaking ceremony in 2014, mountains of tasks were completed, such as feasibility studies and appraisals.
The biggest question looming over the planning was how to pay for it all. Over time, a series of funding mechanisms were put in place.
These were “all the different things that have to happen that you don’t think about,” Pederson said.
Pederson thanked a wide list of sources that provided support to make the addition a reality, including the USDA, the North Dakota legislature, the Bank of North Dakota, and private donations.
Bank of Tioga President David Grubb also spoke at the event and is among the contributors.
“We were happy to be involved in this project,” Grubb said.
Pederson thanked the citizens of Tioga, who voted 70/30 on a referendum to impose a half-cent sales tax to fund the expansion.
Sen. David Rust (R-Tioga) said the hospital addition is another example of the benefits of the oil and gas to the community, along with new schools and downtown improvements.
While none of the funding for the hospital construction came directly from oil and gas, Rust said the taxes from the industry gave the legislature confidence to support a bill that provided low interest loans for critical healthcare needs.
“Those dollars wouldn’t have been available if it weren’t for the oil and gas taxes.”
Pederson also thanked his wife, who he said had to endure a lot of his pacing during early morning hours.
“There were many sleepless nights working on this project,” he said.
Besides the primary funders, he said the project needed the help of those who stepped up to support the effort when the going got tough.
“There are going to be glitches along the way,” he said.
In any large project such as the hospital expansion, there are a lot of unknowns encountered along the way that push up costs.
Pederson told the audience how they ended up having to pay for an environmental remediation that wasn’t in the original plans.
The hospital’s original backup generator was fueled by a large, buried diesel tank. When the thing leaked decades ago, the only procedures to rectify the problem was to drain the tank and fill it with concrete. Then it was forgotten.
“For the next 25 years, that’s how it was,” Pederson said.
When the tank was dug up during the construction of the addition, they found a lot of soil contaminated with diesel fuel, which had to be removed and disposed of according to modern environmental regulations.
Pederson thanked the Tioga Fund for stepping in to provide the hospital with the funding shortfall it had as a result of the cleanup.
Much of the construction was on track and according to plan, but even those times could present challenges.
Pederson praised the team that oversaw the construction and kept the project moving along. Among those he mentioned is Jerry Fuchs, superintendent for Shingobee Builders.
Underneath Shingobee was a slew of subcontractors, each fitting together various interdependent pieces and parts. Pederson said Fuchs was instrumental in coordinating them all.
“Jerry had a special way of working with these guys,” he said.
Fuchs seemed to enjoy the challenge of bringing it all together.
“If I had the chance to do it all over again, I would,” he said.
Difficulties continued after the construction was complete as the hospital moved into its new facilities.
Ryan Mickelsen, CFO for the hospital, talked about IT struggles to get printers and phones working right.
The new addition has been in use for a couple months, and everything is going smoothly now.
“We’ve worked out the kinks,” Mickelsen said. “I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished here.”
Besides being able to meet the healthcare demands of the current community, Mickelsen said they incorporated a lot of room to grow into the addition. This includes a large basement with no current dedicated purpose.
It goes beyond allowing for more space, if needed. Mickelsen said they designed it to be flexible enough for changes in technology and regulation.
Jerry Jurena, who is a member of the North Dakota Hospital Association, spoke at the event of the changes in healthcare over the years since the hospital was built.
When it opened in 1961, nearly 80 percent of healthcare services were inpatient, Jurena said.
“We’ve progressed way beyond that now,” he told the audience.
Today, that number has flipped, with only 80 percent being outpatient.
Above all, they now have room to work. Shelby Dean, clinic manager, said the new addition is making everyone’s job a lot easier.
“Having more space helps everything go smoother,” she said.
There was a lot of congratulating at the event from a wide range of actors within and outside the Tioga community.
“I remember when this was a little brick building,” said Tioga Commissioner John Grubb. “It’s something everyone can definitely be proud of.”
Pederson read letters from U.S. Senators Heidi Heitkamp and John Hoeven, who were unable to be at the event in person. Pederson said he is pleased state senators would make note of the event.
“It’s good to see people are seeing what’s happening in our community,” Pederson said.
Rust also commented on what the completed project means to the community, beyond meeting its growing healthcare needs.
“So often we get stuck in the mode that everything is bad. This shows there’s a lot of good things happening,” Rust said.