Partnership exploring health care expansion in Freeman
Freeman Regional Health, Salem Mennonite Home look to build new facility
FREEMAN — Two health care providers in Freeman are partnering in an effort to plan for the construction and development of new health care facilities in Freeman.
Freeman Regional Health Services , an Avera affiliate, and the Salem Mennonite Home will address the continuum of care for the community through a recent planning and development agreement known as the Unified Healthcare Campus Project to formalize how they will work together to offer health care services to all generations.
The idea for the project has been gestating for some time, said Lori Uecker, president of the Freeman Regional Health Services board of directors.
“It started with seeing a need to share some of our services,” Uecker told the Mitchell Republic. “We thought if we could maybe share those services that we could help each other out. How would that look?”
The two entities both provide affiliated senior care services, with the Salem Mennonite Home providing assisted care and independent living and Freeman Regional providing services to individuals who require skilled nursing, long-term care and congregate independent living.
"We thought if we could maybe share those services that we could help each other out. How would that look?"
— Lori Uecker, Freeman Regional Health Services board of directors president
Freeman Regional Health Services is made up of several components. One of those components is Freeman Medical Center, an independent, acute care critical access 25 bed hospital offering outpatient and inpatient services, a fully staffed, 3-bay emergency room open 24/7, and a visiting specialists program. Another is Oakview Terrace, a 56-bed Medicare Skilled Nursing Home with round-the-clock nursing care.
The Salem Mennonite Home provides personal care assistance, medication management and health maintenance, among other services, to its approximately 36 residents.
Both longtime staples of health care in the Freeman region, the entities have served area patients and residents for decades. A collaboration between the two to continue to provide that care made sense, Uecker said. A partnership would help both ensure the high quality of care patients have come to expect, while opening doors for improved and more cost-effective service in the future.
“We’re not competitors. It’s always been two different needs, with one being assisted living and the other being more skilled nursing. It’s just natural that we should work on the same campus. It’s taken a lot of work, a lot of planning and a lot of decision making,” Uecker said.
Uecker noted that having assisted living facilities under the same roof as a skilled nursing facility will provide easier access for medical personnel to all patients and allow for a smoother transition for patients moving from assisted living to skilled care. Other issues, such as needing an ambulance to transfer patients from their facility to a medical helicopter for transport will be eased by having a dedicated pad for helicopter landings right on the premises, removing the need for ambulance transport.
Through the agreement, which went into effect in January, the organizations will move forward to determine how to make decisions regarding the planning and development of new facilities, which will be located on a new campus within the city limits of Freeman. The agreement establishes a leadership committee composed of representatives from the Freeman Regional and Salem Home boards of directors who will determine the leadership, governance, procedure and costs associated with planning the project.
The committee meets regularly to jointly review and oversee the collaborative efforts for both organizations and the work of project managers. Regulations governing hospitals and assisted living can be extensive, and taking them all into account can be a challenge.
“We’re looking at models and trying to determine the best way to set up the two businesses together,” Uecker said. “It can be confusing, there are so many rules and regulations.”
Members of the leadership committee will update each respective governing board regarding the project status, including plans for finance, construction, operation and ownership of the new health care campus. It will consider options such as connected physical space and common areas along with shared equipment and services.
Avera Health has also been integral in discussions on how to proceed effectively, Uecker said.
“We sat one night and had Avera explain to all of us the different ramifications of combining,” Uecker said.
Both Freeman Regional and the Salem Mennonite Home will need to obtain approval from their respective boards prior to project implementation. The committee will be led by an appointed, non-voting community member who will represent the viewpoints of the public and facilitate the meetings to work toward building consensus for unanimous decisions and recommendations.
The proposed facility is expected to be built on a plot of land in the southeast corner of the community south of Sixth Street and west of Highway 81. The land for the proposed facility has been purchased, but there is still a lot of work to do in terms of developing building plans that will adhere to regulations. Building plans will determine the cost of the project, and then a fundraising campaign will kick off in earnest.
At that stage, a timeline on the project will become more clear, Uecker said.
“We’re going to have to do some fundraising, so I think it’s going to depend on how long it takes to meet those goals,” Uecker said.
For now, that means there will be more studying, more meetings and the continued exploration of improved services to the community. But Uecker said she was confident that the project would be successful given the amount of work and dedication that is being put into the effort, which she knows will benefit both caregivers and the community at large they serve.
“I’m positive it is going to move forward, it just takes a lot of planning,” Uecker said.