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Avera Queen of Peace to focus on continued success of Grassland Campus

The Avera Grassland Health Campus. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Since the Avera Grassland Health Campus opened eight months ago, the facility's operation is "hitting on all eight cylinders," and looking toward the future.

The $16.5 million medical office building broke ground in 2014, and was completed earlier this year — kicking off the first project in a multi-phase plan to eventually move all of Avera Queen of Peace's operations to the southern part of Mitchell.

And so far, so good, according to Tom Clark, regional president and CEO for Avera Queen of Peace Hospital.

"All of the clinics that were planned are all up and functioning," Clark said in a recent interview with The Daily Republic. "I think it's going really well. We get good feedback from the patients and the convenience, the doctors really like it. It's an efficient space to work in."

But now that Grasslands has stretched its legs following the completion of construction, Avera is looking to ensure the facility has the proper number of employees for day-to-day operations to serve its patients.

The facility officially opened in March, and it has seen approximately 47,000 patient visits to all clinics within the Grassland Health Campus, officials said.

The building is home to three floors of clinic space, totaling approximately 70 exam rooms and 16 procedure rooms. It also houses lab space, X-ray, radiology, dialysis and a pharmacy.

On the south end of the facility sits the pharmacy, which opened in early May, and provides for another level of convenience considering the amount of physicians in the building, Clark said.

And in August, a new dermatologist, Mandi Greenway, started her practice. The hospital budgeted to provide Greenway with additional staff for March or April of next year, but because she's "exceeding expectations," Clark said the hospital already hired additional staff for the clinic.

Greenway, who said the practice has been going great so far, said it was a daunting task to bring her practice to Mitchell, but the process has been smooth.

"There was a long list of people who had been waiting a long time to have a full-time dermatologist in Mitchell," said Greenway, who grew up in a farm near Mitchell and graduated from Mount Vernon High School. "I credit my staff with how quickly we've been able to increase the number of people we are able to see in a day, which decreases the wait-time to get in to see me."

Greenway said because the demand for a dermatologist in Mitchell was so large, this led her practice to "ramp up our staff" more quickly than expected.

And Greenway's practice is not the only area of Avera Queen of Peace seeing changes in employment. With construction complete, the focus has been on expanding Avera Queen of Peace's workforce.

Another hire will be for a new emergency physician, which Clark said Avera is actively recruiting with hopes a hire will be made in the next month or so, and an optometrist will start working at the facility in February.

"Our focus right now, quite honestly, is internal," Clark said. "We're trying to make sure that the doctors that we have are marketing appropriately, that they're busy and helping them get established and be successful."

What's next?

With phase one complete of "all things Avera Queen of Peace" to be located at the Grassland Campus, Clark said the next piece is yet to be determined.

"Whether the next piece is in five years, eight years or whatever, or whether the last piece doesn't occur for 30 years, there is no set timetable," Clark said.

Clark said at some point there will be a replacement hospital, which will be located at the Grassland Campus, and there will also be a replacement for Avera Brady Health and Rehab, also to be located on the new site.

When the 29-acre property was purchased south of Interstate 90, Clark said officials went through a planning process and discussed what elements might be encompassed on the campus in the next 30, 40 or 50 years. They also discussed whether the property would be physically large enough to hold all of the potential facilities, clinics and other services that could end up there.

"And it would," Clark said. "So that's when we made the commitment about the plan and started that planning process. So there's enough room out there for us to do another outpatient facility, more physician office space and additional outpatient services. There's enough room to build a replacement hospital. There's enough room to build a replacement Brady. And there's still room leftover for other things that we may not even know exists today."

Besides focusing on what's going on in Avera Queen of Peace internally, Clark said he and other officials are also working on finding their way in this "time of transition."

Clark said at this point in time, reimbursement for health care is flat, and expenses are continuing to go up. As a health care provider, Clark said he continually asks how the facility can be more efficient and still meet all of patients' needs.

"There's a lot of challenges, especially with everything going on at the national level," Clark said. "This is probably the most upheaval changes in the health care that we've seen since probably the mid-'60s, since the establishment of Medicare. It's just really a time of transition and everybody's trying to find their way. How does this work? How does this look and how do we need to be positioned to be successful? ... We just have to figure out how to position ourselves so we're here for another 100 years. And that's pretty exciting, but at the same time, terrifying."

Recruitment and a growing staff

Over the last four years, Clark said Avera Queen of Peace has brought more than 20 new physicians to the area.

"We've had a lot of growth," he said. "We've had a couple of physicians that will be joining us this year. A lot of our focus now is getting the ones we have, making sure we're busy and growing and developing their practices and helping them get established."

Avera Queen of Peace, one of Mitchell's largest employers, staffs 724 people in the hospital, Avera Brady Health and Rehab and all of its clinics. And 109 of these employees work at the Grassland Health Campus, according to Avera officials.

But recruiting physicians to the area is not always easy, Clark said.

"There's a shortage of physicians nationwide and the demand oustrips what comes out of programs every year," Clark said. "Then when you're looking at rural recruitment, it's even harder. The success we've had has been phenomenal."

Clark said many of the physicians at Avera Queen of Peace have a tie to Mitchell or the surrounding area, which is what officials look for.

When a physician has a tie to the area, Clark said, they are typically the best fit and may stick around longer than doctors who might not necessarily have any South Dakota connections.

"It's not enough just to recruit them," Clark said. "You want them there for the long term. The odds of that go up culturally if they're familiar with the area and have ties to the area or at least to the region. We've been very fortunate in that regard to have done that with at least a lot of physicians we've recruited."