FARGO - Soaring patient demand has set new records since the new Sanford Medical Center opened last year, prompting the addition soon of 16 more hospital beds earlier than expected and driving the need to increase the number of physicians in the region from 588 to 800 by 2025.

Since the new medical center opened last July, patient volumes have set records, including a peak hospital census of 495 inpatients at its three Fargo campuses on Feb. 15. The average daily census last year was 400.

Sanford already has exceeded its projected 2022 patient demand, causing the health system to scramble to accommodate the growing need for medical services.

"That is one of the better problems you could hope for," said Nate White, executive vice president, Sanford Fargo, who recently met with The Forum Editorial Board. As it is working to hire more physicians and other staff, Sanford has relied on temporary staffing.

During the new medical center's first four months of operation, Sanford saw record patient volumes at all of its Fargo medical centers, including a 20-percent increase in visits to its cardiac catheterization lab for heart procedures and a 20-percent increase in trauma patients.

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As of May, Sanford will have hired a net increase of 300 new nurses since shortly before the new medical center opened to staff its three Fargo medical centers, White said.

The addition of new physicians, including specialists, creates the need for support staff. On average, Sanford hires five to eight staff members to support each physician.

More beds

Construction on the space for the 16 additional beds will begin in the fall. Once finished, construction will begin on space to add another 16 beds, which in turn will be followed by yet another 16 beds. Sanford's new medical center left capacity to add 64 additional beds, to be added as demand grows.

"We've had to open more beds than we thought," White said.

Sanford now has the ability to staff up to 550 beds at its three Fargo campuses: 284 beds at its new Sanford Medical Center Fargo, 211 beds at Sanford Medical Center Broadway, its downtown campus, and 55 at Sanford South University Medical Center.

Sanford attributes part of the growth to the lure of its new medical center, and White noted that Fargo-Moorhead continues to grow steadily, but said the health system is still analyzing the reasons for the surprising growth.

The Sanford Medical Center Fargo is planning for a site visit of its trauma center expected this summer, with the goal of gaining designation as a top-level trauma center.

"We're operating like a Level I trauma center right now," White said, adding that the center already meets the criteria for patient volume, specialist staffing and research. "So we're ready."

New clinic

Sanford also still plans to build a clinic near the new medical center within five years. The building, expected to be in the range of 150,000 square feet and three or four stories tall, will be east of the medical center, probably connected via a skywalk, White said.

Once opened, the new clinic will allow many clinical services at the downtown medical center to move.

"It'll open up space for us downtown, which we need," White said, referring to plans to further expand the Roger Maris Cancer Center.

This summer, the cancer center will expand into space that formerly housed the emergency department, no longer needed because of the new medical center, now under demolition. The expansion will increase the number of examination and infusion treatment rooms, including doubling the exam space for pediatric oncology.

The first phase of cancer center construction, completed last fall, included a new lobby and linear accelerator for radiation treatments, a $15 million project.

"I'm looking forward to making Roger Maris the clear destination for cancer services in this region," White said. "They've done such a great job for so long."

As Roger Maris Cancer Center continues to expand, Sanford is hoping a developer will build a hotel nearby for the convenience of patients and their families. Sanford has talked to a couple of developers.

"I would be surprised if there wasn't a hotel there," White said. A 110-room Courtyard by Marriott hotel near the new medical center will open this summer, he added.

Also at its downtown campus, Sanford is considering expanding its convenient care hours of operation-on weekends and evenings-depending upon demand.

Planning, construction and remodeling is ongoing at Sanford South University Medical Center, which will become an orthopedic and rehabilitation hospital. Sanford anticipates renovation costs to be about $20 million over five to 10 years.