Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital
A community partner
Business View Magazine interviews representatives from the Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital, as part of our focus on best practices in healthcare.
In the mid-1950’s, Dr. H.N. Sutherland, a local physician in the small town of Ely, Minnesota, challenged the people of his community with a dream for a new hospital. Mr. Abe Bloomenson, an Elyite who had moved to Duluth, and wanted to do something for his hometown, made a gift of $100,000, which became the seed money for a $550,000 bond issue that the town’s citizens passed for the hospital’s construction. In gratitude, the new facility was named the Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital (EBCH), which opened its doors on February 22, 1958.
“Ely is primarily a logging, mining and tourism community, and most of the furnishings and the rest of the funds were raised by the community members through the sale of hundred-dollar shares,” says Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital Marketing and Communications Team Leader, Jodi Martin. “A community member could become a shareholder for $100 and we still have that process going on, today. That gets you a vote at our annual meeting, which helps to elect our Board of Directors.”
“As a critical access hospital, we have all the services of a community hospital,” explains Hospital CEO, Michael Coyle. “We have a full-time general surgeon; we have an orthopedic surgeon; we do home health; we have a 24/7 emergency room; a swing bed program (for patients no longer requiring acute care hospitalization, but still in need of additional therapy before going home); we have all the diagnostics; radiology; MRI and CT; mammography; a full-service laboratory; we have a chemotherapy program; an effusion program; cardiac rehab; we have PT (Physical Therapy); OT (Occupational Therapy) – all the traditional, community hospital offerings.”
Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital has a staff of about 100. Essential Health Ely, a primary care clinic, and Boundary Waters Care Center, a long-term care facility are both independent businesses that lease space on its campus to provide a health care center for the community. Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital serves the people of Ely, as well as the neighboring communities of Babbitt, Winton, Isabella, Soudan, and Tower. Ely, itself, has a population of only 3,500 people, but in the summertime the area swells with over 125,000-plus visitors that use Ely as a jumping off point into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), a 1,090,000-acre wilderness area within the Superior National Forest in northeastern part of Minnesota.
Coyle believes that the hospital’s location is one of the competitive advantages it has over a few other hospitals within its 50-mile radius. “Our busy season is all summer long,” he explains. “That’s when we quadruple all of our business. People are coming out of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and people are coming up here for outbound activities, and we just are placed most appropriately to the access points to all of those. So the right location helps.”
“But our number one edge is our employees,” Coyle maintains. “We’re kind of a haven for people who want to get out of the metro area, and we have an extremely low turnover. Number two is our technology. For example, we just purchased a new Siemens 128-slice CT (Computerized Tomography) scan that is the newest machinery on the market. Throughout, the rest of our diagnostics are brand new. We have a brand new, 3D mammography system; all of our equipment in our radiology department is digital. So, from a technology standpoint, that’s a big key for us. Also, I think we have some skill sets here, especially in our therapies, that are just head and shoulders above everyone else in the area.”
According to Coyle, Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital’s patients tend to agree. “We just went live with our patient satisfaction survey with Press Ganey (a leading provider of patient experience measurement, performance analytics, and strategic advisory solutions for health care organizations),” he reports. “And we’re very satisfied with our responses. Our hospital and our ER are in the mid-90th percentile for satisfaction, which puts us in the top 5-10 percent in the country.”
Not content to rest on its laurels, Coyle reports that Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital’s Board of Directors is busy planning a major expansion, which will bring new specialty services to the campus, as well as more activity spaces. “We’ll have some more common areas; we’ll have education and community gathering rooms,” he notes. “And the look of the new space will be very current. Jodi’s working on a new branding with a new logo, new website, and new social media pages. And we’ll be doing some more things to make sure that our patients are getting the services they need here on campus. A lot of that will come through specialty service partnerships, expanded diagnostic offerings, and a little bit more access to a variety of medical specialties that we don’t have, right now. Hopefully, groundbreaking will come in 2020.”
While the new expansion will cost between $10-15 million, Coyle believes that borrowing, plus the help of several community partners, will help defray the costs. “When you’re talking about a $10-15 million addition, that’s a fairly husky addition for our size town,” he avers. “We have a pretty good nest egg that we’ll use, but most of it will come from some debt financing. Our goal is not to go in debt more than we can handle. Some will come from grants and donations, not only from our foundation and other foundations, but from other local givers. And we’re looking at other partners in this. There’s a host of others in the community that have asked us to partner. For example, a new ambulance service needs a new garage and living quarters and things like that. So, we have good partners that see its importance.”
Coyle adds that the hospital’s new strategic plan, which takes Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital to 2022, is even more bullish on growth. “Number one is full joint program,” he states. “We’re working with a local orthopedics group and we’re expanding into total joints and joint replacement, which will be brand new for us. That requires an update to our surgical suites and then, obviously, some partnerships with them. We want to have a joint program here; the year-round population is elderly and we know that they struggle, especially up here in this climate for six months out of the year, to travel long distances. So, that’s number one.”
“Number two is an expansion and development of a mental health program,” he continues. “Mental health and behavioral health is of dire need. As Jodi alluded to, previously, we’re a big mining and logging industry, but some of that mining has dissolved over the last ten or fifteen years, leading a lot of people to lose jobs and income, which then reduces their ability to get proper healthcare, which then leads to behavioral issues. So, there’s a string of bad things that has happened to people. Plus, we have some long winters up here and it weighs on people. Plus, we have one of the highest concentrations of veterans than anywhere in the United States. So, good, strong mental health is of utmost importance to us.
“The third section is chemotherapy and chemo care. One of the things that we’d like to do here is expand our chemo program to be a little bit more inclusive of age; we can use a little bit more of a pediatric and geriatric chemotherapy program.”
When all is said and done, though, serving the community will always be the number one priority for the professionals at Ely Bloomenson Community Hospital. “In the days where you see these huge, huge healthcare systems, sometimes the patient gets lost. We are one of the few stand-alone, independent hospitals that treats everybody as a name and not a number,” Coyle asserts. “When you take a look at our engagement scores, they’re in the top in the country, performed by people who truly take care of folks like they’re their neighbors and friends – because they are. The quality of everything here, from the emergency room to home health, is as good as you’ll find it anywhere else. So, people are starting to choose this organization and travelling to get here because of our outcomes.”
“Small hospitals, when operating correctly, can still have a positive bottom line as well as high quality, low turnover, and be a community resource,” Coyle says, in conclusion. “What I tell groups when I speak to them is, ‘If you don’t know where to go, call us. We’ll figure it out for you.’ We want to be known as, not only the largest employer in the community, but one of the biggest partners. We want people to reach out to us, to listen to them, and to be able to help provide resources; to make sure that folks don’t have to go outside of our market for things. You don’t need to be in a big hospital in order to get effective care.”
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AT A GLANCE
WHO: Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital
WHAT: A critical access, community hospital
WHERE: Ely, Minnesota
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