GRAND FORKS — Altru Health System is putting its $300 million hospital construction project on hold as it prioritizes its resources on the coronavirus pandemic.

The hospital made the announcement Thursday, April 2, saying that it must focus on prioritizing operational resources on patient care and employee support during the pandemic.

“Like many other hospitals, Altru is making the adjustments required to ensure we can provide care to all patients during this unprecedented time,” Dr. Steven Weiser, president of Altru Health System, said in the hospital's announcement. “We don’t know exactly how COVID-19 will impact our community, only that it will. Pausing construction allows us to direct our focus to caring for patients and supporting the Altru team members who provide that critical care. It is the responsible decision for our community and region at this time.”

The project to construct a new hospital at Altru's current site in Grand Forks officially broke ground in June 2019, with a price tag of approximately $305 million. Original plans called for a seven-story building with 528,000 square feet. In December, the project was scaled back somewhat, from seven floors to five, with a new projected cost of $250 million, although the hospital decided later to move back to a blueprint that is relatively similar to the original plan.

Thursday afternoon, Weiser assured the community that a new hospital is, indeed, in Grand Forks' future.

"We will have a new hospital," he said. "We look forward to resuming construction and building the hospital our community and region needs and our patients, physicians and staff deserve."

According to the hospital's statement, Altru now will "continue to regularly monitor the operational impact of the COVID-19 spread and will resume hospital construction when deemed appropriate." The decision on when that could be will be made by Altru's board of directors and its leadership team.

Originally, the new hospital was expected to be completed sometime in 2022. Even after last fall's heavy rainfall and the early arrival of winter weather in October, the project reportedly was still on schedule.

It's been a disruptive few months for Altru. The hospital made changes to two top leadership positions earlier this year, prior to the coronavirus pandemic coming to North Dakota. Last week during a community listening session, Altru's chief philanthropy officer said the hospital is facing decreased revenue and increased expenses as the pandemic increases in the region.

“We’re looking at tracking our lost revenues and increased expenses so we’ll be able to share those down the road, so we can keep track of that impact,” Kristi Hall-Jiran said last week. “Suffice it to say it’s going to be major.”

She said the number of patients without health insurance will increase as people are laid off their jobs, making it difficult to pay hospital bills. At the same time, patients are canceling appointments and putting off elective procedures that generate a significant amount of revenue for the hospital.