Leaders at Bell Hospital in Ishpeming, Mich., concluded in the early 1990s it was time to replace or overhaul their vintage building, built in 1917. At the same time, they determined there was no way the hospital could come up with the money to do it. With a new hospital that opened last month, the hospital believes it solved its problem by both embracing and finally moving beyond its early 20th century roots.
The project makes thematic nods to history but is built to support a modern conception of the hospitals identity. We see ourselves as a surgery center with beds, says Chief Executive Officer Rick Ament.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, revenue suffered as the critical-access hospital failed to attract patients and recruit new physicians willing to work in their aging facility as the older ones retired, recalls Chief Financial Officer Greg Perttula. The hospital opened in downtown Ishpeming in 1918during the flu pandemicnear a local iron-mining company. New wings were added in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. At its peak, Bell was a 140-bed hospital and the busiest in Michigans Upper Peninsula, Perttula says. But 287-bed Marquette (Mich.) General Health System eclipsed Bell as the regional provider. Meanwhile, just the utility bills to operate in the old building were costing Bell about $1 million per year.
We could not build a new hospital, says Perttula, who joined Bell in 1992 as hospital leaders studied and discussed whether to renovate the old building or build a new one. Renovation, it turned out, would cost more and take longer. But they decided they were in no shape to do either.
Our financials were just not good enough to support a new building, Perttula says. So first there was a financial turnaround through cost control and new services, making it possible for Bell to secure bond financing for a new hospital.
And then, says Ament, CEO since 2007, the hospital resolved to conceive a project that would win the deep support and emotional investment from the community, physicians and the areas largest employer, mining company Cliffs Natural Resources, formerly named Cleveland-Cliffs.
The plans had to balance the hospitals roles as a rural health provider; a partner with the mining company; and a magnet for what Ament describes as procedure-driven providers who want to keep their healthcare local. Ishpeming has about 7,000 residents and lies about 15 miles west of Marquette, the metropolitan center and county seat of Marquette County that has a population of roughly 65,000.
Bells outreach and planning yielded a donation of 40 acres valued at $2.2 million in a growing part of town from a physician board member. Members of the community donated $7 million in increments ranging from $150 to $100,000. Cliffs Natural Resources donated $2 million. In the end, the total project cost was $41 million, including equipment and aesthetic upgrades that hospital leaders added in recognition of the community contributions.
The 140,000-square-foot, single-story hospital and medical office building has 18 inpatient beds plus seven labor and delivery suites. Intensive-care capacity can be adjusted by opening and closing sets of doors. The lobby is designed with what Ament calls rustic elegance, featuring local wood and slate, large windows and a two-story fireplace as its centerpiece. It looks like a lodge in Vail, says Ament, referring to the Colorado ski town.
And then theres the part Perttula and Ament are most excited to talk about: the attached 40,000-square-foot medical office building. Bell finally has left its old building behinda deal is in the works to hand it over to a new owner that will lease it for government usebut this part of the new facility has an overtly nostalgic theme. Street lamps line the corridors. The carpet has a cobblestone pattern. Each of 10 medical and five retail suites has a facade that carpenters built to resemble ones in old photographs of Michigan storefronts.
Specialties covered by the tenants include orthopedic surgery, vascular surgery, interventional radiology and urology. The building also houses the medical-home clinic that caters to roughly 1,400 Cliffs employees working the nearby iron ore mines. The retail suites house a Starbucks coffee shop, a pharmacy, child care for patients and visitors, and a corporate wellness center.
The office building is designed to accommodate the possibility of future expansion, but the hospital is not, recognizing that Bell is unlikely to regain its position as a regional inpatient provider. The focus on accommodating physicians who perform outpatient procedures has worked, Ament says. The suites are fully occupied.
The first trend we saw was employees from around the peninsula applying for jobs here, Ament says. Now, he adds, The phone has been ringing from providers who want to bring patients here.