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Rainy Lake Medical Center is undergoing what is likely the most extensive renovation since the facility in International Falls opened in 1970.

RLMC Facilities Director Brock Morrison said he heard good things during a recent open house to celebrate RLMC’s new patient wing.

“The overall sentiment from the public was that it’s a great addition,” Morrison said. “You put in a lot of long hours, a lot of long days — some of them frustrating. But at the end of the day you see the light at the end of the tunnel and then you see the final product. It’s definitely kind of a fulfilling feeling. It’s a big accomplishment for everybody involved here.”

Some 40 percent of the facility has been or will be renovated, including the emergency department, medical surgery unit, therapy and wellness center, administrative offices, patient registration, and surgery center.

The medical surgery wing, opened in June, features nine new patient rooms, including a labor and delivery suite. The entire front of the building also is being remodeled, and a new canopy will be added.

RLMC CEO Bonnie Erickson said she hopes the overall project will be finished in January. It is estimated to cost $9 million to $10 million.

“It’s very exciting. We have a good following, and hope to build on that,” she said. “Thank goodness we’re doing this for our community. I believe we need to continue to keep our community hospital.”

Erickson said there are advantages to having the Rural Health Clinic, as well. “We’re a medically underserved area/population (as determined by the Health Resources and Services Administration),” she said. “We have that designation, so that helps us also in recruitment.”

Work is being done by HDR Architecture of St. Paul, Krause-Anderson Construction Co. of Minneapolis, and local contractors.

Morrison said it the renovation is being done in about five phases within the footprint of the original building. Phasing ensures that staff and patients elsewhere in the hospital can function normally during the construction.

“But with all the construction that’s going on, we still have the same type of services,” he said. “It just may be a different entrance, a different parking spot, a different way to get where you’re going. But at the end of the day we still are having the same services.”

It’s difficult to renovate an area when while continuing to provide patient care, Erickson said. “And you can’t say enough about our employees,” she said. “They’re just absolutely fabulous people. We have a lot of pride in our people, and without our people we could not be doing this.”

An open house was held in January to celebrate RLMC’s remodeled Therapy and Wellness Center. It was tripled in size, and now includes private rooms for treatment, a large gym area, and updated equipment.

The cardiac rehabilitation area also was upgraded.

“It’s needed that for a while,” RLMC Registered Nurse Ann Tupper said. “We can do more testing than what we could. It’s available for people in town, where they’re not having to go out of town so much, because we’re able to do testing and stuff here. Which is nice, because, with the elderly population, too, it’s hard for them to get out of town.”

Sanford Bemidji, Orthopedic Associates in Duluth, and Northland Medical Clinic in Duluth rent space at RLMC. Specialists offer cardiology treatment, opthalmology services, cataract and orthopedic surgeries, knee surgery, knee replacements, shoulder repair and more.

“If you have your knee surgery here, you can have your physical therapy here,” said Erickson, who rejoined RLMC as CEO in May. She also was CEO from 2006-2009. “It’s really kind of a great thing. Our motto is, ‘We don’t want people to have to travel for everything.’”

The hospital was established in 1946 as the Falls Memorial Hospital Association.

Morrison said its renovation is a boost to Borderland.

“It’s only going to enhance the patient experience for a long time coming,” he said. “They were in need of a lot of upgrades here, and updates, and we’re definitely making strides for that.”

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