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New St. Joseph's hospital 'right-sizing' for need

This Oct. 6 photo of St. Joseph's Hospital construction shows the sprawling one-level hospital and the multi-level office building.

With bigger roads, more schools and big retail chains coming to the Oil Patch to meet development demands, many wonder why the new $100 million St. Joseph's Hospital will be half the size of its current facility.

Hospital officials say they hear that question all the time, and the size of the hospital came out of thorough analysis showing health care shifting toward quick turnaround outpatient care because of the Affordable Care Act and modern health technology.

With the ACA, more people will have access to health care, which could keep more out of the hospital in the first place, St. Joseph's Hospital and Health Center President Reed Reyman said. The ACA also brings a stronger focus of proactive health care.

And modern technology has turned previously lengthy experiences like knee replacements into much quicker surgeries, lessening the need for hospital space devoted to long stays.

St. Joseph's spokeswoman Stephanie Fong gave the example of consumer electronics: Computers and phones are getting smaller, but they're doing more.

With everything else getting bigger, "it's hard for the community to understand" why the hospital is shrinking, Reyman said. He calls it "right-sizing."

The current hospital was built when longer inpatient hospital stays were more common -- about three-quarters of the space is devoted to beds for patients staying extended lengths of time, construction manager Leigh Hantho said.

The new hospital will flip this around: only a quarter of the space will be for inpatient care.

The hospital also can't increase its inpatient beds, or it risks losing a status that has helped it financially.

For the past few years St. Joseph's has been a "critical access" hospital, a designation the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services gives to small rural hospitals to help them stay afloat with cost-based reimbursements for Medicare instead of standard fixed rates. But the hospital must have 25 beds or less and maintain an average length of stay of no more than 96 hours for acute inpatient care, among other requirements.

"The limited size and short stay length allowed to (critical access hospitals) encourage a focus on providing care for common conditions and outpatient care, while referring other conditions to larger hospitals," the Department of Health and Human Services states in a fact sheet.

Reyman said the hospital wouldn't be able to do its expansion without its critical access status.

Officials are also quick to mention that the hospital is designed so that further expansion, to 50 beds, is possible if needed.

Parent company Catholic Health Initiatives is giving $85 million for the hospital, with the other $15 million coming from private fundraising, mostly locally.

The hospital so far has $5.8 million in pledges, Reyman said.