Editor’s Note: This the final story in a three-part series about CHI St. Joseph’s Hospital and Health Center, chronicling the hospital’s history and future as it transitions into its new facility next month. 

Janis Gartner has already been through one move with St. Joseph’s Hospital and Health Center.

She had been with the hospital for about four years as a registered nurse when it moved to a remodeled facility in 1966, leaving behind the original structure built in 1911.

“I’ll tell you, that day was a nightmare,” she said. “I swore I’d never move again.”

Gartner retired in 2013, well ahead of St. Joseph’s latest move to a new $100 million facility at 2500 Fairway Street (good timing, her former colleagues tell her). Staff has been preparing for weeks, even months, for Monday’s official opening of the CHI St. Joseph’s Health facility, a little more than two years after ground broke on the four-acre medical campus.

Several of St. Joseph’s independent clinics will come together under one roof for the first time in the new facility - its women’s clinic; the Dakota Bone and Joint Clinic; the Badlands Ear, Nose and Throat Clinic; and the St. Joseph’s Surgical Care Clinic - alongside family practice, physical therapy, walk-in care, sports medicine and, later, pediatrics.

“It’s difficult,” St. Joseph’s President Reed Reyman said of the dynamics of pulling together so many different parts of Dickinson’s Catholic health system. “They operated almost independently. Now they’re all going to be working together.”

The logistics of combining several locations into one comprehensive clinic have been “a challenge, a great challenge,” said Dennis Cannon, vice president of mission, facilities and support services.

Non-essential items from the hospital and clinics have been trickling over to the hospital in advance of its first day; the rest of the equipment will go over Monday, Cannon said. But the biggest, perhaps most logistically challenging move will come later when patients are transferred across town from the current hospital.

The move is tentatively scheduled for midnight Monday, Dec. 8, when both facilities will operate until the transition is complete.

“The thing we don’t want is to close our doors here and 15 minutes later, get someone at the door with chest pains,” Cannon said.

Many of St. Joseph’s roughly 400 staff members will be on hand to aid with the move, which will have to protect both the patients’ safety and privacy. Just thinking about doing it all “is massive,” Cannon said, but St. Joseph’s won’t have to do it alone.

Southwest District Health, the Dickinson Fire and Police Departments and the State Department are among the agencies who will help facilitate the transition.

“You don’t do it yourself,” Cannon said. “There’s just lots and lots and lots of people. We have resources; we’re prepared.”

Despite the challenge ahead, the move is an opportunity as well.

“The new building is exciting,” Cannon said. “Very, very few people get to build a new hospital and move in.”

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Staying ahead in health care

Moving 15 or so blocks west is just one of many changes for the hospital, which comes on the heels of CHI’s new critical access facilities in Nebraska City, Neb., and Pendleton, Ore. Though about half the size of the old hospital and licensed for just 25 patient beds under its critical access designation, the center is arguably among the most advanced in the CHI system, boasting state-of-the-art diagnostics and surgery equipment.

“It’s much better in the new facility,” Reyman said, adding that technology will play a central role in the way the new facility cares for patients.

“The electronics, the new technology, the way technology is delivered. Technology is adding a whole different twist to how we’re doing health care.”

The health-care industry has made a large move toward outpatient care in recent decades, with shorter stays for procedures that would, at one time, have required a week or more in the hospital. Laparoscopy and endoscopy procedures are becoming more common, replacing invasive work for things like gallbladder surgery and even heart surgery.

“Back when I first started, almost all of your procedures were what we called ‘open procedure,’” Gartner said. “Everybody ended up having an incision; they had to be opened and stuff, which could be very painful.”

Now, incisions are minimal, as is recovery time.

“I think that is one of the greatest things that ever evolved with surgical care,” she said.

St. Joseph’s new Stryker surgical equipment is viewed as a highlight among the facility’s amenities, which will also include a whirlpool for physical therapy and the on-site Valley Med Flight medical helicopter.

It’s a vast improvement from the antiquated old facility, employees say.

“The surgery staff are going to be in heaven,” said Dennis Zastoupil, St. Joseph’s operations manager.

Combining St. Joseph’s hospital care and clinics offers patients a more efficient “one-stop shop” for care, Reyman said. Next door to the three-story clinic site, nurses will work at a single “command center” on the single-floor hospital, where staff will be cross-trained.

“It’s making it easier on staff,” said Mike Lefor, former president of the hospital board and recently elected District 37 representative. “These nurses can tend to all the needs and not be broken up into three different levels.”

The improvements in the hospital’s layout, flow and design will ultimately add up to better care for patients - whether that means more convenient visits, private rooms or a more peaceful setting in which to heal.

“As an organization, we’re into understanding that it’s all about the mind, body and spirit. We have a facility that we believe reflects the basic nature of our organization,” said Michael Rowan, chief operations officer at Catholic Health Initiatives in Denver. “It reflects the idea that healing is not just a physical process, but an emotional and mental process.”

St. Joseph’s latest incarnation won’t be its last. Health care is a constantly changing and “very challenging” field, Reyman said, with many moving parts.

“If you’re not in it every day, it’s very difficult to stay ahead of it,” he said.

And with Dickinson’s changing community - one that is growing and increasingly younger - St. Joseph’s will have to adapt to its new patient base, providing different services in different ways than before. So far, the hospital has been seeing more babies and more traumas, Reyman said.

“We’ll need better diagnostics,” he said. “We’re looking at all the services.”

Already, St. Joseph’s is considering expanding its telepsychiatry program, which connects patients to psychiatrists over the phone, to a possible full-scale mental health service, the first since the hospital’s mental health inpatient program and psychiatry services were suspended in 2007.

“I think the hospital just gives us the flexibility to expand if need be,” Reyman said. “That’s the most important thing, to flex and move with the community as things change.”

Saying goodbye

Even with the excitement of starting in the new facility, there is anxiety in moving forward.

Reyman said it’s no different than “moving, like getting a job in a whole different area of the country, it’s such a different facility than we’re in now. … We didn’t replicate what we’re doing here in the new building. It’s all new for all of us.”

Cannon said much of the emotion surrounding the move is the sense of not knowing what the future will hold, or what will become of the old St. Joseph’s structure, parts of which have stood for more than a century. So far, there are no definite plans for the old facility.

CHI leadership in Denver will have final choice over who will take over the 125,000 square-foot building. For staff who have worked at the hospital for 20 or 30 years, Cannon said, the new facility will have entirely different ways of doing things.

“The unknown is always the scariest part,” he said. “The staff is excited, but nervous - that’s the best way to describe them.”

Employees have been undergoing training and preparations ahead of the merge, and part of the process have been to say goodbye to the old facility, a mainstay of health care and faith for the last century.

Hospital staff gathered in the hospital’s old chapel Wednesday, many for the last time, for a kind of farewell prayer service to look back on the role the hospital’s faith has played in Dickinson over the past decades. Crosses came down from the walls, collected one by one and handed to staff members, some crying.

“The Holy Cross Sisters’ legacy, that’s the saddest thing about leaving it behind,” Bev Ferderer, coordinator of administrative services, said Monday before the prayer service. “The Sisters are the reason the hospital is here. I hope that they feel that we carry that on when we go over. Without them, St. Joseph’s wouldn’t be.”

The pews from the old chapel have already been installed in the new facility (“a little bit of new, a little bit of old,” Cannon said); other icons will make their way as the move is completed.

Cannon said the prayer service provided a sense of closure for staff as they spend their last days in St. Joseph’s Hospital and Health Center.

“To just close our doors and turn our lights off seems so inappropriate,” he said. “There’s a lot of symbolism. We’re closing here, but there’s gonna be an opening.”

Days before Monday’s grand clinic opening, Cannon said it’s a great time to be with St. Joseph’s.

“Once every hundred years you get to do this,” he said with a smile.

Faulx is a reporter with The Press. Contact her at 701-456-1207.