Small hospitals opting for new facility over renovation

The brand-new Kewanee Hospital opened May 31, and by one account, not a minute too soon.

This small hospital northwest of Peoria was functioning in a 1917 building that had undergone about 13 additions over the last 80 years.

It was struggling to keep up its aging mechanicals and meet a growing demand for outpatient services – and had no room to expand.

And on top of that, the hospital's average daily number of inpatients – 11 – had been pushed closer to filling the 25-bed limit this past winter, thanks to a rough flu season.

"We did look at renovation," said Lynn Fulton, the hospital's chief operating officer.

Instead, hospital officials elected to build a brand-new $27 million hospital offering all private rooms, a family health clinic and an expanded emergency department.

It remains licensed for 25 beds, which is the maximum size for a critical-access hospital designation, but modern design standards allowed for the new building to be efficient in a more compact space, Fulton said.

Having this new hospital is good for the whole community, Fulton said, but one large age group that will reap the benefit is the elderly: Half the hospital's business is Medicare patients.

"We have an aging demographic in our community, and having this hospital here is their safety net," Fulton said.

The old Galena-Stauss Hospital & Healthcare Center – also a 25-bed critical-access hospital – was also out of room to expand in a residential area.

Built in the 1960s when hospitals were focusing more on inpatient stays, it was hardly up to today's standards, its CEO Jeff Hill said.

The rooms were semi-private, and lacked bathing facilities. (Patients who wanted to bathe had to use a communal shower down the hall, Hill said.)

Access was so difficult for helicopters transporting emergency patients that police would have to come and block off the road for a landing, he said.

An earlier lack of investment in the facility also led to doctor departures, and a discontinuation of surgery back in the 1990s.

Reopening as the Midwest Medical Center in a brand-new building this past December, the hospital is now easily accessible off a major highway and located in a community growth corridor, Hill said.

It boasts a state-of-the-art surgery department with two operating suites and recruited its own surgeon this past March. It has mostly private rooms and an expanded therapy area. And with doctors being recruited for the hospital's new medical offices, more patients are staying in town for their health care these days, Hill said.

How can he tell? Outpatient volume is up, and the hospital's emergency department is seeing about 100 more visits a month, Hill said.

"I think people don't want to leave their own community for health care if quality health care is available," he said.

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