Avera aims to keep more patients in Sioux Falls with its largest-ever expansion

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) – More space for more patients is certainly a motive for Avera’s new $245 million project, which it calls the largest expansion of patient care space in Sioux Falls history at 350,000 square feet.

The elaborate plan includes a new six-story tower addition to Avera McKennan’s main hospital on Cliff Avenue — including a new, more visible main entrance — and a new three-story building on the Avera campus at 69th and Louise. The expansion spans several buildings across the city and was unveiled at a packed press conference in the Prairie Center on the Avera McKennan campus in Sioux Falls on Wednesday.

Another goal — patients and their loved ones cover less space between their procedures and resting places, from new mothers and their newborns to those receiving cancer treatment.

An even bigger picture was painted by Jim Dover, who took over as the Avera system president and CEO just six months ago. The immense population growth of Sioux Falls over the last two decades has meant a swelling demand for medical services, so those who live in the area don’t have to traverse vast spaces for care.

“You should not have to go to the Twin Cities,” Dover said. “You should not have to go to Omaha, and you should not have to go to other points east of here. We’re proud that people can receive their care here, that’s on par with the best universities across the entire nation.”

Avera will add a new six-story tower addition to Avera McKennan Hospital. This will include a new, more visible main foot entrance. Due to additions over the years, the current entry is underneath another building addition and is not readily available to patients and visitors.

”In fact, if it were a house, the front door would seem to be in the middle of the living room,” joked Dr. Ronald Place MD, Avera’s regional president and CEO of Avera McKennan.

A major component of the new tower will be a focused area for women’s and children’s services, particularly a more efficient space, with more hospital rooms, for mothers giving birth and their newborns, particularly those who need intensive care. Areas to be expanded include labor and delivery, postpartum care, newborn nursery, neonatal intensive care unit, pediatric hospital care and pediatric intensive care.

Currently, mothers deliver their babies in one space, then are moved to the postpartum area on a different floor and on the opposite side of the floor. If a baby is in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), the mother and family has to walk or ride down a long hallway to find their baby.

“Any woman who’s had a child knows you’re not feeling your best,” said Dr. Katherine Wang, MD, an Avera Neonatologist for 12 years. “

”For there to be a long hallway or ever more space and travel between you and your child, it’s heartbreaking. It’s tough. So, the more we can kind of bring those services together, I think it really just helps foster this new family which has been interrupted.”

Plaza 3 on the main Avera McKennan campus will be demolished to make room for the new tower. It’s currently home to the Avera Transplant Institute and dialysis center. That will all be moved to another location.

The second major aspect of this project is a three-story digestive health building building on the Avera Louise campus.

“The demand for gastroenterology services is growing with the growth of our population as well as the aging of the baby boomer and Generation X populations,” Dr. Place said.

The current facility for digestive health will become a center for orthopedic care, something that has also grown in demand.

It’s a bit of musical chairs, with one result being that all of Avera’s cancer care will be now be under one roof at the Prairie Center. Currently all of outpatient care in Sioux Falls is delivered in the first three floors of that building, while the top floor is currently used as an inpatient rehabilitation unit. Inpatient oncology units are spread throughout a majority of the main hospital.

”When you’re sick, when you’re really, really sick, going from building-to-building, going through tunnels, navigating a maze, it’s very difficult,” said Jennifer Kirby, an Avera McKennan board member whose mother recently went through cancer treatments in another city.

“And, so it warms my heart, that all of cancer care will be under this roof.”

Kirby’s family is providing “generous” donations to the expansion, said Dr. Place said, who said bonds will fund most of the project, with a hope that 20 percent of funding will come from philanthropic gifts.

“I love Sioux Falls. I love living here,” Kirby said. “Because of that, my husband and I are always looking for ways to improve that community. Having a strong health system is part of having a strong community. I’ve lived in a community that didn’t have a strong health system, and it’s a different situation. It becomes a system of the haves and the have nots.”

Kirby related a story about a friend in another city who had to visit an emergency room on a recent weekend. Her stay there was 12 hours before she was seen. The following Monday, she called the patient reserve phone number to give feedback on her experience.

“The nurse said, ‘well, 12 hours, you actually got lucky,” Kirby said. “The average wait time was 19 hours that weekend. That’s not what we do in Sioux Falls. That’s not what we do at Avera. Everybody gets care at Avera. Everybody that needs help can get help at Avera. And, that is why this expansion is a vital part of making Sioux Falls and keeping Sioux Falls a wonderful place to live.”

With more space for more patients, Avera will eventually have to hire more nurses, doctors, and staff. Part of Dr. Wang’s job in the NICU is hiring new employees.

“When you go somewhere and they are willing to build a whole new center devoted to your areas of specialty, you really feel like, okay, this is a hospital that is going to support me,” Dr. Wang said. “Because, they’re actually putting their money where their mouths are. They’re not just saying they care about women and children. They’re saying they’re investing in women and children.”

Dr. Wang also said the expansion will allow for more research projects that will help a wide variety of people and patients — urban and rural, Native Americans and immigrants, and the “underserved.”

Dr. Place is a Huron native who took over his role as regional president and CEO of Avera McKennan just 10 months ago. A retired three-star Army general who led a $53 billion operation for the Department of Defense, he played a key role in merging three health services organizations under one umbrella for the U.S. government.

The Avera expansion was already well underway when Dr. Place arrived in Sioux Falls, but throughout his career all around the world, Dr. Place has watched from afar his home state’s largest city grow at a steady rate of 25 percent every decade for several decades, from “a big town to a real city,” with many of the amenities cities “without a lot of the bad things cities have.”

He has worked with the city’s business, political, and religious leaders to help drive this $245 million expansion to its announcement today, and realizes it will take plenty more work from the time construction starts on both Avera campuses this summer. The estimated completion date is early 2026 for the Avera on Louise project, and early 2027 for the main hospital campus project.

“This project, among all other things that are happening in Sioux Falls, is another piece of that is really growing Sioux Falls to be this beacon, that shining example of hope of what can happen when people work collectively together.”

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