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Published November 25, 2013, 03:43 AM

Booming Bakken prompts expansion of health facilities

Health care facilities are not exempt from the constant struggle to keep pace with the demands of the Bakken oil boom.

By: Kris Bevill, Forum News Service, INFORUM

Health care facilities are not exempt from the constant struggle to keep pace with the demands of the Bakken oil boom.

Patient loads at some western North Dakota clinics and hospitals have more than tripled in the past three years as the boom has drawn a historic number of people to the region, leaving organizations strapped for staff and space.

Many facilities are also calling for additional specialties not previously necessary at their locations as they adapt to new demands associated with an industry prone to specific injuries. Housing affects health care providers as well, and organizations continue to require additional housing units to shelter new workers.

Despite the challenges, health care organizations are managing to expand and improve services in places including Dickinson, Watford City, Tioga and Williston, and leaders say workforce and housing shortages won’t deter them from providing services needed in those communities.

“These aren’t bad things in any way,” said Craig Lambrecht, president of Sanford Health in Bismarck. “We’re in legendary times in western North Dakota. It’s just a matter of positioning ourselves so we’re part of that infrastructure and recognize the challenges and take them on. This is a great opportunity.”

Dickinson ‘super clinic’

Sanford is constructing a $30 million “super clinic” in Dickinson. The clinic is expected to open in February, ahead of schedule, and will replace Sanford’s current clinic, which Lambrecht said is outdated and too small.

At 80,000 square feet, the new clinic will be nearly triple the size of the current facility.

While the clinic is set to open earlier than expected, it seems it can’t open soon enough. The current clinic saw 210 patients in one day in October, setting a record for the clinic, Lambrecht said.

“And we only anticipate that that’s going to increase as far as patient volume access,” he said.

When the new facility opens, it will house 18 to 20 doctors and support specialty services including cardiology, orthopedic surgery and cancer care. Lambrecht said Sanford will also continue to provide various specialty services as needed throughout western North Dakota. Specifically, he said, the organization’s occupational medicine program has been communicating with 17 counties throughout the region to better meet the needs of employees and employers.

Between the expanded facility, specialty service outreach and the organization’s new same-day service policy, Lambrecht said Sanford has “a good chance” of meeting the Dickinson area’s medical needs.

It can be assumed that the larger clinic will require more employees, but Lambrecht hesitates to estimate the number of new staff members expected, noting that low unemployment, housing shortages and a lack of day care facilities make recruiting employees difficult.

“The biggest challenge we face right now in western North Dakota, and that includes Bismarck-Mandan, is workforce,” he said. “We need more workers. We have to retain the workers we have. We have salary challenges because the wages just keep escalating because the cost of living is going up.”

Watford City hospital

In Watford City, McKenzie County Healthcare Systems Inc. is also dealing with an undersized and outdated facility, according to Tucker Petersen, chief operating officer.

Considering the increased need for emergency medical services, a population that is expected to triple within the next 15 years and a growing demand for accommodations for elderly patients, the organization determined that a new hospital, clinic and additional nursing home space are desperately needed. A needs assessment determined that an apartment building for medical workers and additional assisted living units also should be built.

A site for the new facilities was recently selected, and Petersen said a groundbreaking is expected next spring.

The project cost is estimated at $55 million, and the organization is seeking $40 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and $15 million from the Bank of North Dakota.