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St. Mary's nursing home to expand: $12 million, 40,000-square-foot project will double size of nursing home

St. Mary's Regional Health Center is on the grow again --and this time, it's the Nursing Center that's going to be getting an update.

St. Mary's held a groundbreaking ceremony Monday for a $12 million, 18-20 month project that will more than double the size of the current 30,000-square-foot nursing home facility.

The ceremony was attended by local and state officials as well as representatives of the Benedictine Health System, which manages St. Mary's as well as approximately 60 other acute and long term care facilities in the region.

According to Christy Brinkman, administrative director of St. Mary's Nursing Center, a 40,000-square-foot addition is planned, in addition to a complete renovation of the current facility.

Part of the addition will house a new therapy center, which will serve outpatient clients of all ages as well as nursing home residents.

"We will have physical, occupational and speech therapy, for pediatric patients as well as adults," Brinkman added.

There will be an area of the therapy center dedicated exclusively to pediatric patients, with local artist Hans Gilsdorf contributing original artwork centered around a fictional character created just for this project.

According to Brinkman, it will be a project similar to one that Gilsdorf created for MeritCare in Fargo last year.

But the key aspect of this project, according to Brinkman, is that it will signal a change in the current care model for residents at the nursing home to one that is geared toward improving their quality of life.

"It's not about creating home-like, it's about creating home," explained Tom Thompson, CEO of St. Mary's RHC in his remarks during the groundbreaking festivities Monday afternoon.

District 9B State Representative Paul Marquart (DFL-Dilworth) told the seniors: "You built our schools, our communities, you fought our wars... you deserve the most excellent quality of care we can give."

What that means, Brinkman explained in a later interview, is that the expanded facility will be laid out in such a way as to create resident "neighborhoods," where groups of 25 people or less will live together and enjoy a common kitchen and dining area where they will have far greater access to the cooking process.

"Residents will be able to go into the kitchen and help to prepare the food, and they will have 'refrigerator rights' (i.e., access to snacks and beverages 24 hours a day), just as they would in their own home," Brinkman explained.

The neighborhood kitchens will also utilize the nursing home's recently implemented "Rise and Dine" breakfast policy, where residents can get up from bed in the morning at their leisure, and enjoy breakfast at a time that is convenient for them.

"People here eat anywhere between 6:30 to 10 a.m. now," Brinkman said. "It's been working really well. The residents like it."

There will also be a "neighborhood spa" where the residents can bathe in a whirlpool tub -- with sufficient space for them to get dressed, undressed and put on makeup before going back out into the living area.

Each neighborhood will also have a family room where residents can eat and enjoy time with their family or other visitors in a separate, more private location.

There will also be small sitting areas interspersed throughout the facility for residents to enjoy a little quiet time to themselves.

Each neighborhood will also be staffed consistently, with the same nurses, nursing assistants and other support staff working with them year-round.

"Working with the residents every day, (the staff) will develop a closer relationship with them, learn to anticipate their needs, and as a result, their care will be improved," Brinkman said.

In direct response to market research, the Center will also be drastically increasing the number of private, single rooms offered, from 7 to 66, Brinkman noted.

"When we did our market research, talking with past, current and future consumers, the number one request was to have their own room -- not having to share," she said.

But there will still be 15 double rooms, Brinkman added. "We do have some spouses here, and there are a number of our residents who benefit emotionally and socially from having a roommate," she explained. "I think it's a good balance (between private and shared rooms), because it offers more choices to our residents."

There will also be a new entrance, with covered walkway, and just inside the entrance there will be a "downtown" or "town center" area where the residents' beauty shop, soda and gift shop and library will be located.

In addition, there will also be a greatly expanded chapel, with sufficient space to accommodate up to 80 people -- as opposed to the current chapel, which only has room for between 8-10 people (with wheelchairs).

"We will have weekly (Catholic) mass and Protestant services," said Brinkman, explaining that the chapel is intended to be interdenominational. "It can also be used for large group events, and funeral services if the family so requests -- and we do have requests all the time."

The existing nursing home space will also be completely redone. "Some areas have not been remodeled since it opened in the 1960s," Brinkman added.

The current parking lot will be removed to make room for the expansion, which will be located south of the current building. Four residential properties to the south of the Nursing Center were purchased, and all of the existing homes -- as well as one garage -- were purchased and relocated, Brinkman noted.

"Stewardship is one of our values, and this (recycling the buildings instead of demolishing them) was one way to make those values come to life," she said.

Sometime in the next couple of weeks, the parking lot to the south of the Nursing Center will be closed in preparation for its removal, and parking will be relocated temporarily to the entrance on the west side of the Center, on Lincoln Avenue. There will be parking on the street outside the entrance as well as in the parking lot across the street.

The new parking lot to the south of the addition is expected to be ready for use in April 2008, Brinkman said. The entire project is expected to take 18-20 months.

"The ultimate goal of this project is to create a real home for our residents," she added.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454