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What's happening at the hospital?

Work continues at a fast clip at the Douglas County Hospital Monday afternoon. The $15 million project will add 7,500 square feet of surgical suites and remodel 25,000 square feet for a specialty clinic. (Al Edenloff | Echo Press)1 / 3
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A flurry of activity involving cranes, backhoes, cement trucks, metal beams and more at the Douglas County Hospital has sparked questions: "What's changing?" "Why are they doing this work?" "What will this mean for patients?"

The hospital is completing a $15 million expansion of its surgical center. To help the public get a better understanding of the scope of the project and its impact, the hospital provided the following information to the Echo Press last week.

"We've been hearing quite a few questions with our summer residents returning and want to get the word out about what is going on with the health care in our community," said Eddie Reif, the hospital's director of communications and development.

Expanded surgical center

Why is the hospital expanding?

The answer, according to hospital leaders, is connected to the changing role of hospitals in today's health care industry.

"Over the past decade, we've seen a decrease in the number of people being admitted to our hospital," said Carl Vaagenes, the hospital's CEO, "and a dramatic increase in surgical services through our surgery center."

Although the statistics may sound conflicting, many of the advanced surgical services offered at the hospital require shorter stays than in the past — or no stay at all. In fact, same-day surgeries, with patients going home within hours of a procedure, are becoming more and more common.

To keep pace with the increasing surgical needs of this region, the hospital is adding 7,500 square feet of state-of-the-art surgical suites. This will bring the hospital from six to eight surgical suites, with the newest ones able to accommodate advanced procedures that require additional equipment and staff.

For patients, this means more surgeries can be scheduled at earlier start times, which helps minimize overnight stays and, ultimately, reduce their total cost of care. It also means surgical teams can more efficiently coordinate schedules and manage care, while continuing to ensure optimal patient outcomes.

"Additionally," said Dr. Deborah Dittberner, the hospital's chief medical officer, "our patients can feel confident knowing they're in a hospital setting, close to all of our highly skilled medical professionals and resources. Being in the heart of our community's most trusted medical center — with the busiest Level 3 Trauma Center in the State of Minnesota right down the hall — gives our patients true peace of mind."

New speciality clinic

In addition to adding surgical suites, DCH is remodeling approximately 25,000 square feet of its existing building into a specialty clinic.

This new clinic will accommodate the ongoing recruitment of additional medical providers to the community, and expansion of specialty services. Over the past five years, there have been more than 30 providers recruited to the community.

Benefits for patients

The expansion project holds several benefits for patients.

"All of these expanded services mean our patients don't need to travel to get modern state of the art health care," said Vaagenes. "They can get it right here, close to home. We're being very deliberate about continuing to look and plan in order to meet the needs of our community and region — and to help our patients keep the total cost of care low and maintain the highest quality care."

Vaagenes added, "Being the largest employer in Douglas County and the center of the health care community in our region comes with a tremendous amount of responsibility. We remain committed to the neighbors we've served for over 50 years, and we look forward to serving them well into the future."

Award-winning care

Douglas County Hospital was recently recognized by several national organizations for quality, safety, and patient satisfaction. This recognition includes:

1. Recognized as a "High Performing Hospital," by U.S. News and World Report—specifically for its hip-replacement surgeries, offering further validation that its surgery specialists are among the best in the country.

2. Recognized as an "A" grade rating for patient safety by the Leapfrog Group, a national watchdog for patient safety

3. Recognized a recipient of the 2017 Outstanding Patient Experience Award that is

published by Healthgrades, a national organization dedicated to providing consumers information

regarding quality and safety of hospitals and physicians across the U.S. DCH was recognized as

one of only 21 hospitals in Minnesota. These hospital recipients of this award are in the top 15 percent in the nation for overall patient experience.

About Douglas County Hospital

Douglas County Hospital is an integrated system of providers that includes Heartland Orthopedic Specialists and Alexandria Clinic. It's a 127-bed, nonprofit hospital and health system that includes 900 staff and 74 physicians and advanced practice professionals providing integrated health care services. For more information visit

Al Edenloff
Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  
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