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USDA Under Secretary visits Watford City

Posted 8/25/15 (Tue)

By Amy Robinson
Farmer Staff Writer

On Tuesday, Aug. 18, several USDA officials visited Watford City to not only see the famous boomtown, but specifically to look at McKenzie County’s healthcare system and the need for expansion.
“Today’s visit from the USDA puts McKenzie County Healthcare Systems in the national spotlight,” said Dan Kelly, McKenzie County Healthcare Systems CEO, of the recent visit. “We’re being viewed as a shining example of how rural healthcare will be delivered in the future.”
The visit included USDA Under Secretary Lisa Mensah, USDA Rural Development State Director Ryan Taylor, USDA Rural Development Program Director Bill Davis, Watford City Mayor Brent Sanford, McKenzie County Healthcare Systems CEO Dan Kelly, and McKenzie County Healthcare Systems Board of Trustees President Patsy Levang. The morning started out with a presentation of the need for the new McKenzie County Healthcare Systems healthcare facility, currently under construction. It also included a tour of the new healthcare facility’s project  site.
“The USDA is confident in our plans to meet the rapidly-changing and ever-growing healthcare needs of our community,” said Kelly. “This is evidenced by the fact that our building project received USDA’s largest loan to date for any similar project in the entire nation.”
Based on recent statistics, according to Kelly, Watford City was formerly made up of about 1,100 citizens and is now currently sitting at somewhere in the neighborhood of 15,000, headed to a population of 22,000, and that does not include the rest of the population living out in the county. And because of this burgeoning population and the increased need for state-of-the-art healthcare delivery, the McKenzie County Healthcare Systems, Inc. is building an advanced medical complex that will encompass and enhance the existing structure associated with the current service delivery.
“We were led to believe that Bakken exploration would keep moving south,” said Ron Anderson, McKenzie County commissioner. “Contrary to this, drilling has remained concentrated in portions of McKenzie County, Mountrail, Williams, and Dunn counties. McKenzie and Mountrail together are about to ecllipse the production numbers in Alaska and California. We have had 70 rigs drilling in McKenzie County for the last three years. Watford City is the epicenter of that exploration. In my mind, our number one priority and need in McKenzie County is a modern medical facility that has an emphasis on emergency care. This is paramount for our growing population. The MCHS has the capacity to provide this service and we support their growth wholeheartedly.”
“McKenzie County is perhaps the epicenter of the current population growth in western North Dakota,” stated Governor Jack Dalrymple. “As the state continues to make significant investments to enhance emergency services, including a $12.5 million load through the Bank of North Dakota for the McKenzie County Healthcare Systems, public-private investments in projects such as this are important ways to ensure the needs of the community are met.”
The new healthcare facility will provide nine emergency room treatment bays, a 24-bed hospital, 30 clinic exam rooms, private resident rooms for the aging population that needs skilled nursing care, a full-scale laboratory, X-ray, a 32-slice CT scan, MRI, ultrasound, outpatient surgery services, and room for development of future innovations in medical care.
According to Kelly, administration offices, Foundation offices, storage, and supply space will not be part of the new construction project in order to save costs and re-utilize existing buildings. New construction and development will be reserved strictly for patient care and the provision of state-of-the-art services.
“The expansion of our healthcare systems’ facilities is of utmost importance for our community’s future,” stated Watford City Mayor Brent Sanford. “The clinic and the ER are inadequate for the size our community has grown into. Longtime and new residents alike are frustrated with the undersized and outdated facilities. Residents are being forced to drive long distances for health care services. With the rapid population growth, it is time to bring back basic services like OB/GYN and also to attract specialists.”
Sanford also said the new healthcare facility and services would reduce citizen’s healthcare travel miles, will help attract and retain new families, as well as retain retirees. The only way to do any of that, according to Sanford, is to build the right-sized facilities. And that time is now.
“We need to act,” said Sanford. “Our future economic growth and quality of life are dependent on it.”
For the new facility, according to Kelly, construction costs increased from $34.8 million to $50.2 million, an increase of $15.4 million. Site work costs increased from $2 million to $5.8 million, an increase of almost $3.9 million. And the overall project cost went from $57.4 million to $79.1 million, an increase of $21.8 million.
Current funding sources include the USDA loan for about $39.3 million, the Bank of North Dakota loan for $12.5 million, $10 million from the Capital Campaign, $9.5 million from the Roughrider Fund, and a pledge of $1 million from the Masons for a total of $72.3 million.
Kelly says there’s been action taken to address the increased cost including a project reduction of $4.5 million. He also says the healthcare system is seeking $2.7 million is assistance from McKenzie County, oil-related companies, businesses, and individuals.
“One of the things we’ll likely do is make a request to the USDA for more loan dollars,” said Kelly.
Once that is done, Kelly says they’ll have all their ducks in a row to proceed with the project. Even with the $4.5 million in cost reduction, Kelly says they haven’t changed any of the patient areas with the reduction.
“My husband, Gary and I, together, believe that I would not be alive today if it had not been for the quick action of the McKenzie County Healthcare System,” said Patsy Levang, MCHS Board of Trustees president. “We want to make sure that the new medical complex will be available to provide the same ‘Hope of Saving and Continuing Life’ for another 60 years. As Chairperson of the McKenzie County Healthcare System, I am committed to passionately pursuing the completion of the new medical complex for a myriad of reasons, but saving lives is paramount to me.”
“We’re committed to showing the USDA that they’ve made a wise investment,” stated Kelly, “and that McKenzie County will indeed become a model of success for other rural communities to emulate.”