Kalispell Regional Healthcare is breaking ground this summer on a 190,000-square-foot pediatric center that will dramatically expand intensive care and other medical services for women and children across Montana.
The $50 million addition, which will be located east of the main entrance to Kalispell Regional Medical Center along Sunnyview Lane and Buffalo Hill Drive, will be built over the next two years with the goal of opening in the spring of 2018.
The three-story facility will add to the hospital’s growing lineup of health care services and form the largest centralized source of pediatric care in the state.
“This is something that will change the medical environment of the state of Montana,” said Dr. Federico Seifarth, a pediatric surgeon who recently joined KRH from the Cleveland Clinic, one of the nation’s best hospitals. “What is happening here is not just changing the community of the Flathead Valley. This is changing how kids and babies are treated in the state of Montana, which has a tremendous impact on families.”
The new pediatric center marks the latest expansion for the growing medical center in the heart of Kalispell. In recent years, KRH has built a new three-story, 130,000-square-foot surgical wing and is in the process of expanding its emergency services department from 8,000-square-feet to over 37,000-square-feet, a project estimated to cost $14 million. There are also plans for a 30,000-square-foot expansion of the gastrointestinal facility.
Since 2014, the hospital has added over 65 medical doctors, as well as nearly 20 allied staff, and now boasts over 2,530 full-time employees, according to hospital data. Healthcare employment in Flathead County has grown 47 percent in the last 10 years, according to state data. One in six workers in Flathead County are now employed in the health care and social services sector, making it the largest local employment sector.
“It’s an area of tremendous growth and it’s really impressive what the leadership of the hospital is doing to find new specialties that they can have here,” Joe Unterreiner, president of the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce, said. “It’s further evidence of Kalispell’s growth as a health care center in the region and it’s great for the overall economy.”
This spring KRH formed an affiliation with North Valley Hospital in Whitefish that unifies services between the two largest medical providers in Northwest Montana.
Tagen Vine, president of the Kalispell Regional Healthcare Foundation, said the hospital identified increased pediatric services as a priority because it could help lower costs for families seeking care and would keep jobs and revenues in Montana.
“There are not many communities our size doing this kind of work in pediatrics. It’s exciting,” Vine said.
The hospital is growing its pediatric services in existing space while the new facility is built. Seifarth and other specialists are already helping families from across the region.
On his first day on the job, Seifarth said he helped a young patient whose family drove 17 hours to receive care in Kalispell.
“I think that tells a lot of what we’re doing here and for whom. That was extremely rewarding for me,” he said.
Historically, Montana children in need of urgent or specialized medical care have had few options close to home, requiring trips to Spokane, Seattle or Salt Lake City. Earlier this year, the Billings Clinic opened an 8,800-square-foot pediatric unit, and hospitals in Missoula have contracted with larger regional organizations to provide sporadic pediatric care.
This latest addition will put Kalispell on the map in terms of specialized children’s care with the goal of avoiding lengthy trips for families.
“We need that service here so we don’t have to send a bunch of children out of the state for care and so their families can stay here,” said Mellody Sharpton, director of communications and marketing at KRH.
Seifarth, who grew up in Switzerland and has worked at several renowned children’s hospitals, including the University Children’s Hospital in Zurich and the Miami Children’s Hospital, said he was attracted to Kalispell because of the rare opportunity to build a new program from the ground up. He previously led the department of pediatric surgery at the Cleveland Clinic.
He said he and his colleagues in the pediatric center would strive to provide the same level of care “as any other high-standard facility in the country.”
“Somebody who comes here should receive the same care as they receive in a dedicated children’s hospital in Seattle, Denver or Salt Lake,” Seifarth said.
“Kalispell Regional offers a phenomenal opportunity for well-trained, ambitious people to be part of a build up. This is a rare professional opportunity, and I feel like the support from the hospital and the community is here and that is necessary to achieve that.”
The new facility will house neonatal and pediatric intensive care units with 24 beds, two operating rooms and other space that can adapt to daily demands. The second floor will feature doctor’s offices and other medical space, as well as living accommodations for families that travel here.
“This will be a blessing for families,” Seifarth said. “This will be setup to be a home for families with attached housing and care that will be designed to accommodate them.”
Within the new facility, the hospital will be equipped to handle several subspecialties — surgery, neurology, ophthalmology, ENT, neonatology, cardiology, gastroenterology, hematology, oncology, endocrinology and hospitalist services. The hospital is also recruiting pediatric intensivists, pulmonologists and neurosurgeons.
Since moving to Montana earlier this year, Seifarth has realized how the state’s vast landscape can commonly create issues for rural families seeking medical care. With two young children of his own, he felt drawn to the opportunity to address that problem.
“Almost everybody knows somebody who has had a child or had a child and needed to go out of state for care. And we get used to going out of state but that’s not normal,” Seifarth said. “To be able to change that and to create an established high standard of care within the state is just phenomenal. I think it is a blessing.”