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'Hospital of the future' in works in Grand Forks

GRAND FORKS - The interior of the new Doctors Hospital in Grand Forks resembles an upscale hotel with plenty of natural light, stone and wood accents, floor-to-ceiling rich-hued tile, Jacuzzi tubs and noise-suppressing carpeting.

GRAND FORKS - The interior of the new Doctors Hospital in Grand Forks resembles an upscale hotel with plenty of natural light, stone and wood accents, floor-to-ceiling rich-hued tile, Jacuzzi tubs and noise-suppressing carpeting.

Prairie shades of brown, cinnamon and sage green fill the walls throughout.

Workers are putting finishing touches on the interior of the 94,000-square-foot, 65-bed for-profit hospital in the city's south end at 45th Avenue South and South Washington Street.

"This is a hospital of the future," said CEO Albert Pilkington, who came to the job on Dec. 5. "If this hospital was built 20 years ago, it would be 200 beds."

New hospitals are much smaller, inpatient-stays are much shorter and much more health care services are provided on an out-patient basis. Those hospitalized are generally in more serious condition, requiring a lower patient-to-nurse ratio.

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"It's a much leaner operation," Pilkington said. "We want to be more like Toyota and not like GM."

He said he expects the hospital to open sometime in February, though the exact date depends on completion of survey visits required for accreditation and licensure by state and national agencies.

Doctors Hospital is part of the Physicians Hospital System, a physician-owned company with hospitals and clinics in Indiana. The Grand Forks hospital is its first facility out of state. The building was constructed in 2009, but the company that built it didn't open it, selling it to PHS in 2011.

Grand Forks "is the only community of this size I've seen that only has one hospital," said Pilkington. "We believe there's a lot of untapped opportunity here."

Studies show that 40 percent of patients are leaving or bypassing Grand Forks for health care services, he said.

He rejects the notion that Doctors Hospital "will exist based on what we can take from somebody else," he said. "We really feel the pie will get bigger."

PHS is a different kind of for-profit, he said. "Its philosophy is not 'slash-and-burn,' to see how much we can eek by on. We get to profitability, not by a minimalistic approach or cutting to gain profits but by service."

It was plainly clear to him, early on in his career, that "physicians are the beginning of quality," he said. "In the quest for excellence in quality, physicians are the vanguards of the process. You define your product by the quality of the physicians you have."

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While Doctors Hospital is for-profit, it still supports the community, Pilkington said. "We give to the community through taxation."

The full-service hospital will provide a range of services including an emergency department, intensive care unit and obstetrics.

Some services are up and running already, including imaging and diagnostic services and the Ambulatory Surgery Center, which was formerly part of Aurora Clinic.

Set to open first are basic obstetrics and medical-surgical services. In the spring, the hospital will open its emergency room, operated by a national company.

"The emergency room is a necessary service, it's a community service," he said. It'll be a Level II trauma service, partly because of physical plant limitations but also because Altru Health System has Level I, and the city doesn't need another, he said.

The hospital will also contract out laboratory services and outpatient physical therapy.

Pilkington, in past executive posts, has been credited with cutting costs, improving productivity, and starting and expanding service lines including emergency room and intensive care units.

PHS CEO Cameron Gilbert called him "the model of the successful hospital CEO" in a news release. "He has led several facilities across the country and in each has improved operations, made them more efficient and successfully recruited physicians, all of which resulted in better care and service for patients."

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One of his strengths is his 26 years of experience in physician recruitment.

"I can't remember a time when I wasn't recruiting doctors," he said.

The new hospital will run multiple employment models, he said. Some may be employees, some may be independent contractors and some may practice at both Grand Forks hospitals, he said. "We will give doctors the flexibility to practice the way they want. We won't say that you have to be an employee."

Pilkington holds an undergraduate degree in business administration and a master of business administration degree from the University of Central Arkansas. He spent part of his career in the East Coast and Mid-Atlantic states.

Pamela Knutson writes for the Grand Forks Herald

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