BEMIDJI -- Interior construction is underway to improve medical visits at Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota's Bemidji campus and the provider is planning more structural work in the future.

Sanford is in the process of working with an architecture firm for a comprehensive facility plan, according to Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota President Susan Jarvis. The effort will review the future for facilities over the next five to 10 years.

As the plan is being developed, construction is already taking place to make several changes inside the Bemidji Medical Center. The building was built in 1979 and an addition was constructed in 2005.

"It's been around for a while now and when COVID hit, we had to work pretty hard to get ready from a facility standpoint," Jarvis said. "We didn't have enough negative airflow rooms, we had just semi-private rooms on the second floor and that's what led us to build the COVID unit on the fourth floor."

As part of the fourth-floor rearranging, the acute rehabilitation unit had to be moved to other parts of the medical center. Jarvis said those actions have led to permanent changes as the ICU section is being expanded.

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"The ICU has 10 beds right now and we're adding four to go to 14," Jarvis said. "Even in non-COVID times, our 10 beds would always be full. Another area where we're full most of the time is our telemetry, which is a 12-bed unit. We're going to move it up to the fourth floor and expand that up to 15 beds."

Jarvis said the telemetry section is for people who are not general or medical surgery patients but also don't require a stay at the ICU unit.

The acute rehabilitation section will also have a new home as part of the renovations. As part of the change, the beds in the rehabilitation unit will be reduced.

"It was a 12-bed unit, but there have been changes in how the health care works," Jarvis said. "Previously, someone who maybe had a knee replacement would go to an acute rehabilitation unit and stay there for physical therapy. But now, they often go home. Before COVID, the unit was running about four patients per day, so we're relocating it to a new space with six beds."

In addition to those changes, construction is also underway to remodel spaces so all 118 patient rooms can be private spaces. Work is underway on the ICU section now and the whole project is expected to be finished by the end of 2021.

New buildings to the campus

As a result of the pandemic, some new building projects had to be pushed back, such as a new 56,000 square-foot heart and vascular facility. Currently, the heart health space at Sanford isn't able to keep up with the number of patients, as it reached capacity in 2019.

In the initial announcement, the new center was estimated at $25 million and was planned to have 19 clinic rooms. Additionally, the facility would have 11 diagnostic imaging rooms, a cardiovascular recovery unit and lab space.

Jarvis said as part of the facility planning process, the project will be reviewed to determine which location is best for the building. The project has now been scheduled for 2022.

One project that is moving ahead this year is a new mental health facility on Hannah Avenue, just south of the main Sanford campus.

"We're breaking ground on it this fall," Jarvis said. "Behavioral health is a huge need in our community and we're providing a lot of services. We added our first psychiatrist (last year) and the new Behavioral Health Crisis Center will be a great partnership with (Beltrami) County."

The partnership is for a grant that the county worked with Sanford to apply for. The grant is worth $3.7 million and is the second time the two entities have partnered together. The first was the PrimeWest Residential Support Center. Opened in 2019, the 6,500 square-foot building was remodeled with $1.2 million from the state and a $1.5 million investment from Sanford to offer addiction and mental health treatment services.

The new building will be located adjacent to the PrimeWest facility. Before the recent behavioral health projects, Sanford also opened the $9 million, 46,385 square-foot orthopedics and sports medicine center in 2013 and the $12 million, 20,500 square-foot Joe Lueken Cancer Center in 2018.