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Unity now a reality at Humboldt hospital

Updated facility will serve community better

-Messenger photo by Elijah Decious
New waiting areas in Humboldt County Memorial Hospital are spacious and modern, giving patients a sense of ease at the door.

HUMBOLDT — An idea decades in the making has finally become a reality at Humboldt County Memorial Hospital: a single roof over all the services offered.

“This has been in the facility master plan for as far back as I could find, about 35 years,” said CEO Michelle Sleiter, who started with HCMH more than four years ago, as the hospital started to delve into the conceptual stages of a $19 million project.

“The dream became a reality. Making that a reality is a big deal,” she said this week, as a key piece of their vision finally opened to the public, expanding and improving on a multitude of services offered, and even adding some new ones.

The new space, opened Monday, offered a cleaner, brighter and enlarged experience to patients in UnityPoint’s outpatient primary care and walk-in clinic, diabetes education, dietitian services, therapy, cardiopulmonary services, sleep studies, outpatient specialties and other public health services offered within the hospital.

“One of our biggest drivers,” for the project “was two separate buildings,” said Victor Bycroft, HCMH’s director of nursing. “We needed to get rid of that (gap.)”

-Messenger photo by Elijah Decious
Patient exam rooms like this one are arranged almost identically throughout the building, making it easy for providers to seamlessly move back and forth as needed through the facility.

It was a prominent concern they heard from anyone needing to go from the clinic to the hospital for necessary services as part of their care in the rain, snow or extreme heat.

But the big change is more than a matter of convenience — it’s part of a new trend in health care that rethinks how providers and patients interact.

Now, nurses and providers will adjust to some large but positive changes in their workflow.

“They work under a patient-centered medical home model,” said Bycroft as The Messenger toured the facility, passing new nurse hubs in open-floor plans that invite collaboration on care that is becoming even more of a priority. “With that sort of model, you get a lot of collaboration between providers and nurses. It’s faster, safer, more efficient and everyone feels better on it by being on the same page.”

This is a move away from the older model in health care as it was reflected in building designs, with compartmentalized work stations.

-Messenger photo by Elijah Decious
The new front desk at UnityPoint’s outpatient clinic adjacent to Humboldt County Memorial Hospital greets patients with a modern and updated setting.

“Before, we were very siloed,” said D’Etta Lester, clinic administrator at the UnityPoint primary care clinic.

Bycroft said that with more minds in one place, conversations can spark real-time solutions that old environments weren’t conducive to.

“Now, we know that collaboration is really what provides for the best care,” said the veteran nursing director. “We want an atmosphere that allows for that.”

New features, such as a back door to connect different provider areas between UnityPoint’s clinic and the outpatient specialty clinic, take feedback from community needs assessments in Humboldt County to heart.

“They’re able to step very easily through there,” Bycroft said. “It just provides a better experience for them.”

-Messenger photo by Elijah Decious
New space in Humboldt County Memorial Hospital’s new addition now allows for the addition of new work areas, clinical equipment and more, featuring views of the trees throughout many spaces.

Dramatically larger spaces showcase wide hallways, identical room layouts for ease of provider familiarity, natural lighting wherever possible and modern aesthetics that make patients feel at home, even in a brand new space.

Several drafts from RDG Planning and Design of Des Moines gave the hospital the chance to modernize while remaining true to patient preferences. Bycroft said it took about six months to work through numerous designs that didn’t quite fit the bill before finding the one patients see now. Bycroft said some initial designs, though beautiful, were a bit flashy or overblown for local taste.

“We wanted our patients to feel at home and local,” with a fresh feel that managed to balance high-end interior design with down-to-earth practicality, said Mardi Ratzlaff, director of community development. “The balance between professionalism and proficiency was top of mind.”

In an industry with delicate revenue margins, Bycroft said it was important to keep them in mind as outpatient services continue to dominate current and future projected growth in health care services.

But with the “beauty of new construction,” he said little to no sacrifices had to be made to accomplish the modernization on a wide scale with the facilities.

In addition to changing workflows, patients will enjoy the convenience of more centrally-located services such as lab services, which used to be on the far end of the hospital building.

“That’s the whole idea behind this: ‘how do we get the best for everyone?'” Bycroft said.

UnityPoint’s clinic went from about 8,000 square feet to about 12,000, adding more exam rooms, dedicated provider offices and more storage. The new outpatient specialty clinic now features six exam rooms plus two offices, meaning doctors won’t have to work on the counters and take up valuable exam space for non-patient facing work.

Bycroft said the new facility will be a big draw for new providers and lines of services to the rural county’s seat.

“People always like the new,” he said. “They will feel good about providing care in a new environment.”

Similarly, Sleiter said that providers have noticed changes in patient attitudes, too.

“They said the patient’s sense of quality that they’re going to receive in a building like this is just different,” she said, describing their reactions in the first two days to the new spaces. “They feel like they’re receiving better quality of care, even though the people and services are the same.”

That newfound sense of confidence with both patients and providers of “understanding what we can provide to get the patient what they need, when they need it,” is a huge boost, she said.

Brand new offerings are driving excitement, particularly in therapy offerings. Sleiter said the reality of building the new facility started with a spark in therapy.

Now, children needing physical, occupational or speech therapy don’t need to make a drive to Ames or beyond. They can get it right at home.

“This is a big new service line, it’s huge,” Bycroft said.

Providers from other areas were already making referrals to the new service in Humboldt before it was built, and just two days in, packed schedules were taking full advantage of the pediatric therapy.

The director of nursing said they knew of the demand out there, and were glad to finally have the opportunity to provide it.

The question “why can’t we offer that?” was finally answered.

The new physical therapy gym triples the amount of space, alongside a increase of treatment rooms from six to 17. Soothing views of nearby trees and greenery outside the facility offer a calming outlook for patients through large windows.

Another new feature, the activities of daily living lab, will also give occupational therapist providers another tool. Set up like an apartment, the ADL helps patients figure out what daily activities they’re able to do as they make a transition home from rehabilitation.

Now, crews will continue working to finish up areas like the new lab and the front registration desk. The old building, now empty, will be demolished internally this week. Within two weeks, the old building will be completely gone. After that, finishing touches with driveways, parking lots and landscaping will be completed.

The project’s projected end date is Nov. 15. An open house will be scheduled in November shortly after.

“We’re making the change as seamless as possible to everyone,” Sleiter said, thanking the community for their support.

“Truthfully, it’s an overwhelming feeling,” Ratzlaff said, telling The Messenger of the $16,000 raised from the hospital’s staff for the project –a buy-in that said more than words could do justice. “This was another step to see they were building into the future of Humboldt County.”

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