GRAND FORKS — Altru Health System is building a new hospital estimated at “well over” $250 million to replace aging facilities in Grand Forks.

Health system leaders announced the planned investment to Altru employees Wednesday, Nov. 8, before describing the project further in an afternoon press conference. Altru Board of Directors Chairwoman Kris Compton said the unexpected loss earlier this year of the system’s main clinic after a structural failure had presented an opportunity to “step back and think about the big picture” of meeting regional health care needs.

“Our recent planning, particularly the work done over the past 10 months, has been focused on a more comprehensive approach to care in our region,” she said, referring to the planned capital investment as part of a “bold new era of care” for Altru.

Altru pediatrician Dr. Eric Lunn, who serves as president of the health system, said early planning for the new facilities has already begun with architects brought on site just last week. Lunn said planners are now scheduling advisory group meetings with patients, doctors and other Altru stakeholders to gather information to steer the design phase of the project. He anticipated that segment would last through the next year and culminate in a groundbreaking sometime in 2019. The hospital itself could be completed and ready for occupancy in 2022.

Questions regarding the exact size and location of the new hospital, as well as the fate of the old one, are still being answered, though Altru CEO David Molmen said the upgraded facility will be absorbing all of the functions of the current hospital. Molmen said the design process will determine where the new building is sited, but said there’s likely room on the system’s Columbia Road campus to accommodate the structure.

Altru leaders had initially planned to rebuild the main clinic in Grand Forks but changed course over the summer. The clinic’s functions have been redistributed to other Altru facilities where they will remain indefinitely. The building itself is being demolished, which could open up space for new construction.

Moving forward, Lunn described Altru’s financial status as strong — a point Molmen later referenced to dispel any worries the system was being acquired by a different health care network — and said the system’s planning has “for years” considered the necessary costs of updating aged facilities. Construction costs aside, he said replacing such infrastructure would create efficiencies in utilities and operations that would, in time, cover the investment. Dwight Thompson, Altru chief financial officer, said the project’s completion would be financed with a combination of bonds, cash reserves and philanthropic gifts, in addition to a redirection of dollars that Altru currently spends to upgrade existing facilities and equipment. Altru issued a $40 million bond earlier this year for facilities work and will likely start a new bonding campaign in the latter half of 2018, Thompson said.

According to an Altru press release, the updated facilities will feature new medical technologies, expanded clinic and emergency services and a more prominent focus on a “population approach” to health care, a strategy Molmen said would specifically target the region’s aging population.

“What we’re going to be seeing is a rapid increase in that (aging) population and subsequently a rapid increase in the needs that we have for health care services,” Molmen said.

That demographic shift is set against changes in the medical industry as a whole. Molmen said health care technology has itself developed rapidly and is continuing to redefine how medical procedures are carried out. He added that the technological focus of the new hospital would serve to position the facility to adapt to the cutting edge of today while giving it room to adopt new innovations as they come up.

Modern technologies have increased the effectiveness of noninvasive procedures while expanding the potential for outpatient care. The new hospital will reflect that, Molmen said.

“It is going to be certainly called a hospital but in many ways it will be quite different than the facilities than we have been familiar with in the past,” he said.

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