KRMC Begins $42 Million Renovation

By Beacon Staff

Kalispell Regional Medical Center is the largest employer in Flathead County and is rapidly getting bigger, in terms of medical staff, patients and, now, physical size.

As the hospital continues evolving as a medical destination, administrators are recognizing the need for extensive renovations to replace aging infrastructure and expand for future growth.

First up are plans to upgrade the hospital’s surgical operating suites. The current surgical services department is more than 30 years old. Construction, already underway, is expected to last into 2012 and will pave the way for a second phase of renovations: expanding the emergency department in 2013 and 2014.

Future phases will include two parking garages, in 2015 and 2018, along with green spaces and a recreational vehicle parking in 2020.

Jim Oliverson, vice president at KRMC, said the surgical suites phase will cost $42 million altogether, including construction, fees, equipment and other costs. The timing for the project makes sense now, Oliverson said, because of the infrastructure’s age, the low cost of construction and the urgent need to pump money and jobs into the community.

Furthermore, as the number of people using the hospital grows, so too should the hospital’s capacity to handle those people, he said. And in turn, Oliverson said, improved equipment and infrastructure serve as attractants for quality medical staff.

“I’ve been in the business 42 years and I’ve never seen this kind of growth,” Oliverson said. “It’s amazing.”

Over the last 12 years, Oliverson said KRMC has nearly doubled its medical staff and a substantial percentage of the new staff are physicians. In 2009, KRMC hired seven new physicians, Oliverson said, and last year it took on 15 new physicians. There are now more than 200 physicians.

Overall, Northwest Healthcare – KRMC’s parent company – has more than 2,400 employees, the majority at the hospital.

Roughly half of the physicians hired over the last decade, Oliverson said, have been surgeons or anesthesiologists. The hospital received its second heart surgeon in 2010 and there are two neurosurgeons coming in the spring.

A rendering of the renovated surgical suites tower.

Oliverson said there were 7,987 surgeries performed at KRMC in 2004 and 13,507 in 2010, which he calls “incredible growth.” The hospital now has 12 surgery sub-disciplines.

“That’s pretty rich for a small community,” Oliverson said.

The more surgical capabilities KRMC has, the less it has to send people away to other hospitals for specialized surgeries, Oliverson said.

“We’re keeping people here instead of them leaving and that’s good for everybody,” he said.

The current project will completely replace the existing surgical services area, with excavations and renovations planned for the basement and first levels. Equipment will be relocated. Additionally, a second level will be built for immediate use, along with a shelled third level that will eventually house intermediate care patient rooms and ancillary spaces. Infrastructure is designed to allow for the future additions of fourth and fifth levels when necessary.

Altogether, there will be eight built-out and completed surgical operating rooms, four shelled operating rooms, 18 same-day services beds, 18 post-anesthesia care unit beds, two endoscopy procedure rooms, two fluoroscopy procedure rooms, a nurses and physicians lounge, offices, storage, an enclosed ambulance entrance, 8,500 square feet of shelled space to be used for emergency department expansions, and other infrastructure.

At a Jan. 18 luncheon hosted by the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce at the Red Lion Hotel, Dr. A. Craig Eddy echoed Oliverson’s statements on the importance of attracting elite physicians. Eddy is the chief medical officer for Northwest Healthcare, a position he characterized as similar to a university provost.

Eddy spent a portion of his presentation discussing the federal health care overhaul, framing the law as a burdensome mistake and drawing applause from the large crowd. But when he addressed the hospital expansion, he emphasized self-sufficiency for regional health care providers such as KRMC. Improving infrastructure and bringing in top surgeons are a large part of the equation, and vital for the community.

“In the new paradigm, Eddy said, “we have to take care of ourselves.”

He added: “Let’s build now rather than wait until a time when there’s a lot of employment. Let’s help carry the valley through this really dark time.”