BEMIDJI -- Since adding cardiology services to its medical campus nearly a decade ago, Sanford Health in Bemidji has treated more and more patients.

In order to streamline its increasing number of services to help treat the growing number of patients, the medical provider is looking to expand its footprint. Sanford plans to do so with a 56,000 square-foot Heart and Vascular Center in 2021.

"Overall, we're serving such a large geographic population between Fargo and Duluth," said Chris St. Peter, Executive Director of Operations for Cardiology. "Since starting this program, we just grew exponentially to the point where we're bursting at the seams. Getting new space for us will mean we can handle the volume that exists regionally."

According to data provided by Sanford, the cardiology department has experienced a 20% growth year-by-year, and reached capacity in 2019. Over the same course of time, heart disease-related deaths have decreased by 15% in the region.

"We were having our program development within our walls, and were adding physicians and new services," St. Peter said. "Our patients are getting great care, but at some point, we just couldn't fit that in our four walls anymore."

Estimated at just over $25 million, the new center will be built on the eastern side of the Sanford Bemidji Medical Center, using up space now designated for parking. Ground will break on the structure this spring and completion is expected in fall 2021.

Once finished, the building will house cardiology, vascular, pulmonary and respiratory services. It will include 19 clinic rooms, 11 diagnostic imaging rooms, education rooms, a cardiovascular recovery unit, a family room, and three cardiac catheterization labs with space for a fourth in the future.

"We will be getting six additional exam rooms, three new diagnostic imaging rooms and we will have new equipment going in," said Kaileigh Chapman, director of cardiology.

"We're very excited, this is going to be the largest construction project we've had in many years," said Susan Jarvis, President and CEO of Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota. "It's really going to bring our heart services together into one location, making it much more efficient."

Citing how heart treatment service rooms have been added to different floors and sections of the existing building, Jarvis said the new structure will "bring everything into one place."

The heart center will be the latest in several expansions in the Bemidji area by Sanford Health over the past decade. About 10 years ago, Sanford Health merged with both MeritCare Health Systems and North Country Health Services. Since then, new health facilities have been added.

In summer 2013, the $9 million, 46,385 square-foot Sanford Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Center opened on the campus' western side. Then, in August 2018, the 20,500 square-foot Joe Lueken Cancer Center, estimated at $12 million, opened.

Last year, in collaboration with Beltrami County, Sanford Health opened the PrimeWest Residential Support Center on Hannah Avenue. The 6,500 square-foot building was remodeled with $1.2 million from the state Legislature and $1.5 million from Sanford Health to provide treatment for mental health patients and detox patients.

Currently, Sanford Health is partnering with the county again to create a new mental health clinic in Bemidji, also with funding from the state. Ground breaking on the $3.63 million project is also anticipated this spring on Hannah Avenue.