Expansions at Big Horn Hospital make for community asset

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Photo by Carl Danelski

Kristi Gatrell, CEO of Big Horn County Memorial Hospital, greets Lab Director Will Peterman. Planned renovations will give the laboratory additional space.

Photo by Jim Eshleman

Big Horn County Memorial Hospital, shown here, will be undergoing expansion after four and a half years of planning and studies.

Big Horn County Memorial Hospital’s CEO Kristi Gatrell and Executive Director Bill Hodges are enthusiastic about planned improvements to their facility.

“This hospital is the fabric of the community,” Gatrell said in an interview Monday. “Our radiology has cutting edge technology.”

Following four and a half years of planning and a series of studies aimed at community needs, the hospital’s senior management staff, along with researchers from Montana State University Billings have come up with a plan to ensure better capability and care at the hospital. Improvements will include covered entrances – ER bays – along with six new treatment rooms, and an expansion of the laboratory services and pharmacy.

“Sixteen years ago, we had a sharinga-vision capital campaign, and we raised about $950,000 back then,” Hodges explained. “The community has always been generous to the hospital.”

Funding for the current project will combine several fundraising efforts and a sizeable loan. While Hodges was showing appreciation for the community, Gatrell went on to speak about the professional development that can take place within the staff because of the range and versatility of the hospital.

“I think about all the people here that have been able to have professional careers because of this facility,” she said. “This hospital has helped fund them to go back to school, to come back and serve this facility and be a [registered nurse]. I think it speaks volumes for what this organization stands for.”

While touring the hospital in its current state, Gatrell explained the plan to combine two preexisting nursing stations. There is often a shortage of nursing staff, but the hope is a more unified system could make the job a little easier. Along with the staff, the radiology and scanning equipment at the hospital is state-of-theart, she said.

Gatrell articulated the value of such equipment, citing a case where a cyclist from Missoula was traveling around the state and experiencing frequent seizures.

“He had been in the hospital several times and they couldn’t figure out what was going on,” she said. “We did an MRI and, low and behold, this young man had a brain tumor.”

“So because of the connectivity and with telemedicine,” she continued, “those images were sent to Billings Clinic and then sent on to Missoula, and by the time he arrived in Missoula, the surgeon was ready to take him in for surgery. It happened without having to do multiple studies and we were able to give him the diagnosis.”

The lab department appeared particularly resourceful in its ability to function short on space. This was thanks to three technicians constantly maneuvering around tables and revolving sample racks in order to perform their daily tests.

Lab Director Will Peterman mapped out the proposed site of his expanded facility across the hall, replacing rooms number three and five, and extending slightly into the courtyard. The whole plan involves shifting the ER beds, and the ER reception corridor to one wing of the hospital. The transition, however, is going to involve lots of improvising.

“For the expansion, they’ve told us 18-20 months,” Gatrell said, “so we’ll be looking at a year and a half to two years for completion. It’ll be painful during the expansion because you see how out of room we are.”

Yet, despite the challenge, Gatrell and Hodges are confident they’re making the right decision.

“It boils down to a costbenefit analysis,” Hodges said. “And again, that was the hospital renovation and additional equipment.”

In the meantime, to raise interest in the project, the hospital is planning a groundbreaking ceremony on Oct. 3.

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