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Sanford TRF medical center preparing for fall opening

The Sanford Thief River Falls Medical Center, a 136,000-square-foot campus, is nearly completed and scheduled to open this fall. GRAND FORKS HERALD/Eric Hylden

THIEF RIVER FALLS, Minn. — Rob Lovejoy hardly can contain his exuberance as he guides a small group on a tour of the nearly completed Sanford Thief River Falls Medical Center, a 136,000-square-foot campus that is set to open this fall.

“The vision for Sanford-Thief River Falls is to envision the whole patient experience,” said Lovejoy, the hospital’s chief operating officer. “I think that’s what people are really going to notice.”

The complex, being built along Minnesota Highway 32 on the south end of this Pennington County city of 8,600, includes a 25-bed critical access hospital, a clinic with more than 30 specialties, an emergency department/urgent care center, pharmacies, a rehabilitation department and more.

Thief River Falls is about 60 miles northeast of Grand Forks, N.D.

The new facility is part of a $57 million project that tentatively is planned for completion by the end of 2015. The project includes:

  • The new hospital/clinic building.
  • Remodeling the existing hospital in downtown Thief River Falls to house services for behavioral health, dialysis and public education. The hospital is awaiting final approval from the Minnesota Legislature to expand its existing inpatient psychiatric facility from 10 to 16 beds.
  • Renovating the existing clinic, located on U.S. Highway 59, to accommodate health care accessories or other related business.

Patient experience

Lovejoy said the Thief River Falls hospital was designed as a miniature version of the Sanford Heart Hospital in Sioux Falls, S.D. The inpatient wing is decorated in forest-theme colors, the outpatient section in a field motif and the clinic in a river design.

“We brought patients in and asked for their advice on what would make a better experience for them,” he said. “And we paid attention to detail.”

All patient rooms, for example, are single-bed suites with natural light filtering through one-way windows to provide views of the outdoors and allow for privacy. The suites also include small family seating areas, each with a sofa bed.

The suites are designed to be flexible, so they can be easily converted for several types of patients. They also include large restrooms and extra-wide doors throughout. Some have whirlpools in restrooms.

Nine of the suites are equipped with ceiling-mounted lifts.

To make room for the larger patient rooms, designers reduced the size of general waiting areas, conference space and staff offices, according to Lovejoy.

The complex was built on a 60-square-foot grid, so rooms easily can be converted, when needed, to make them larger or smaller.

Getting ready

The detail extends from the depth of grout in the tiled floors to reduce bumpy rides for people in wheelchairs to infant bath sinks in the obstetrics suites.

“It’s kind of neat for mothers and fathers and other family members to actually see the baby’s first bath,” he said.

Families also will notice the pneumatic tube system — like those used at drive-up banks — for transporting documents, drugs, blood work or specimens between nurses stations, labs, the pharmacy, or virtually any corner of the one-story facility.

The hospital has four operating rooms, at a cost of about $1 million each, Lovejoy said.

Sanford, which has been in Thief River Falls for seven years, has about 600 employees, including physicians and other providers.

Administration and other employees also are being cross-trained, so they can work in several areas of the complex, including the hospital or clinic.

“At one time, there was a separate clinic and hospital, and they really were separate,” Lovejoy said. “Today, we’re all part of one organization. It’s quite a change.

“We’re looking forward to the opening,” he said. “We’re going to love it, and I think the community will, too. That’s what it’s about.”

Kevin Bonham

Kevin Bonham covers regional news, mostly from northeast North Dakota, for the Grand Forks Herald. A North Dakota native who grew up in Mandan and Dickinson, he has been a reporter or an editor with the Herald and Forum Communications for more than 30 years. Find his articles at: He welcomes story ideas via email,, or by phone, (701) 780-1110.