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North Country Regional Hospital opens new ER, rehab

North Country Regional Hospital will celebrate the grand opening of two newly completed departments with an open house from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. today.

EZ Street, the new rehabilitation center, features real-life tasks and challenges for people recovering from stroke, brain injury and fractures. And sometimes people just need to build up strength for everyday living.

"Sometimes they've been through so much medically, they're in a weakened state," said Shannon Tangen, physical therapist.

The rehabilitation room provides a wide range of challenges. For example, patients can practice stepping from a dock to a pontoon for movement and balance. The area is decorated with fishing gear and models of fish and ducks.

Various heights of steps and different textures of pavement also are balance tests. The Garden Café gives patients the feeling of sitting down on little iron chairs and figuring out what to do with their canes or walkers.

Entering a house with screen and interior doors, the reach and retrieve of grocery shopping in a simulated store sponsored by Lueken's Village Foods, building items at a woodworking bench -- all are part of the rehab routine. People can also practice getting into a bathtub, assembling small items and lobbing basketballs.

"We try to make it as close to what they have at home as possible," said Tangen. "If they can practice it a few times they have more confidence."

A Tran-sit, sponsored by Dondelinger Chevrolet-Buick, is a simulated vehicle that can be raised and lowered to match the patient's own car. It also provides driving practice with a video projecting realistic highway situations.

Kathy Scheer, occupational therapist, said the tasks are more interesting than the paper and pencil tests patients sometimes take. The realistic situations also allow therapists to gauge the mental abilities of patients, from concentration to attention span, reading comprehension, recognition and fine motor skills.

Visitors at today's open house can also tour the redesigned and remodeled emergency department. The department expanded from 10 rooms divided by curtains to 16 private rooms along a central corridor where nurses, doctors and other support staff work and confer.

Each room is computerized so medical staff can call up patients' records, list symptoms, prescribe medicine and track and prioritize treatment.

Dr. Joe Corson, ER director, said the emergency department was often full, with patients even being treated in wheelchairs in the hallways. The 16-room capacity will alleviate the crowding, he said, and the department is designed for expansion as required.

"Bemidji is really, really growing," he said.