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St. Mary's to open clinic, grow in DL

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Good news for health care in Detroit Lakes -- St. Mary's Regional Health Center has the green light to open its own clinic and greatly expand the number of medical services available locally.

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The move to open a clinic in the hospital's north campus, formerly the County Market building, will happen whether or not St. Mary's parent company carries out a merger now under discussion with Dakota Clinic/Innovis, according to St. Mary's CEO Tom Thompson.

There is no room for expansion in the existing Dakota Clinic building next to the hospital, so 18,000 square feet on the east side of the former grocery store building will be developed into a clinic, which is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

The new clinic will go forward even if the proposed merger goes through between Dakota Clinic/Innovis Health and Essentia Health, parent company of Benedictine Health Services, which runs St. Mary's, Thompson said.

"In our community we will have an integrated health system regardless of whether this (proposed merger) comes together or not," he said.

Discussions are expected to take several months, but if the merger goes through, then St. Mary's and Dakota will have the same owners.

If it fails to materialize, St. Mary's will open a clinic in competition with both Dakota and MeritCare clinics.

Either way, St. Mary's hopes to continue its strong relationship with Dakota and MeritCare physicians, Thompson said.

"We will continue to serve physicians as we always have," he added.

"The idea is not to put MeritCare or Dakota out of business, but to do what's best for our community," he said. "In our current relationship, there is no incentive for two Fargo-based companies (MeritCare and Dakota) to grow medical services here."

The new St. Mary's clinic will ideally have a doctor at its head, the better to reassure patients that referrals -- whether to St. Mary's hospital or to Fargo hospitals -- are in their best medical interest and not driven by business concerns, Thompson said.

"Physician leadership is how you get the best patient care," he said. "Physicians take an oath (to put patient's health care needs first) and they take that oath very seriously."

Fargo will still be the focus of medical care that can't be done in Detroit Lakes, he added.

St. Mary's Regional Health Center now employs 640 full- and part-time workers in all areas, from the hospital, to the nursing home to assisted living.

The plan to open a clinic and increase the number of medical services available in Detroit Lakes means the number of employees will increase by an estimated 200-320 people, Thompson said.

Getting support from its parent organization for strong local growth is good news for health care in Detroit Lakes, Thompson said.

St. Mary's' goal is to deliver "responsive, efficient, effective and proven medical services -- put them together in one integrated organization, where everybody shares the same vision, from clinical to business, and nothing but good things happen."

Thompson declined to go into detail on which medical services will be added or enhanced.

"The initial plan calls for significant growth," he said. ""Our community can support a much wider range of services ... We intend to grow our medical and surgical specialties beyond what is available locally today."

A lot depends on what happens with the Dakota/Innovis merger, he added.

"If the merger happens, we'll have an immediate platform to add more physicians. If not, it will happen more slowly."

Benedictine Health Services has reinvested more than $50 million in the St. Mary's campus over the past 10 years, Thompson noted. "That's a huge advantage to our town."

St. Mary's Foundation, a legal entity of St. Mary's Regional Health Center, will continue to operate as it has in the past and will not be used to fund the new clinic in any way, Thompson said.

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