Sakakawea Medical Center: A modern facility made possible with co-op support

More than 300 individual donors contributed to the $3 million capital campaign to get the project going.

It began as a conversation about the future of health care.

“We took a look at our facility infrastructure and decided that maybe it’s time for us to do some renovation, addition to our current facility,” remembers Darrold Bertsch, CEO of Sakakawea Medical Center and Coal Country Community Health Center. “But as the process went forward, we decided it was much more cost-effective for us to look at constructing a new facility.”

Bertsch says a study was done in 2012 to determine the need for an updated, expanded medical center in the community. The needs assessment took input from nearly 650 community members and health care professionals from the region, as well as 22 community leaders. “The top priorities we found were the need for more providers, more mental health services, more accessible clinics with more locations and longer hours, better access to specialists, and additional equipment and technology,” Bertsch says.

More than 300 individual donors contributed to the $3 million capital campaign to get the project going. The total cost of the facility was about $30 million, and the facility opened its doors in April 2017.

Christie Obenauer, president of the Hazen Memorial Hospital Association board of directors, says the new facility has transformed the way health care is provided in the area. “The medical center is consolidating the majority of its outpatient services to improve access and meet future health care needs,” she says. “More than 15,000 square feet was added, with a centralized registration area.”

In addition, rather than the clinic being across the street from the hospital, like it once was, everything is now under the same roof. “When patients need lab and X-ray, they’re able to do it right in the same facility now,” Bertsch says.

Aside from patient care, “The ability to recruit physicians, visiting specialists, and staff, is greatly enhanced with the construction of our new facility,” Obenauer says. “Having a modern, state-of-the-art facility is important both in our recruitment and retention activities.

“The quality of the local school systems, shopping, and the availability of health care services are questions that get asked by individuals being recruited to come here, regardless of the industry looking to expand or enhance its workforce,” Obenauer says.
Sakakawea Medical Center serves Mercer, Oliver, and Dunn counties, covering about 2,000 square miles and a population of about 15,000 residents.

“Wherever we live, we want to have accessibility to health care services for that time of need,” Bertsch says. “Rural people shouldn’t have to compromise the accessibility and availability of health care services. By constructing this facility, we can provide better health care today, and also for future generations to come.”

Located on the edge of oil activity, the area experienced the quick growth that went along with the Bakken boom. “Even though that dropped for a year or so, we know it will likely be on its way back,” Bertsch says. “We serve both the temporary and transient, as well as the permanent workers brought here by oil jobs and all of the local energy industry.”

The energy industry is a major employer in the region. Basin Electric’s Antelope Valley Station and Leland Olds Station, and Dakota Gasification Company’s Great Plains Synfuels Plant, in addition to The Coteau Properties Company’s Freedom Mine account for about 1,200 of the cooperative’s 2,300 employees.

That concentration of Basin Electric’s workforce meant the cooperative had an interest in stepping up to help. Jen Holen, Basin Electric charitable giving administrator, says the Charitable Giving Committee pledged $250,000 over five years with support from Roughrider Electric Cooperative, a Basin Electric Class C member headquartered in Hazen.

“Access to modern, convenient health care is important to our members for many reasons. Without these facilities, some people might be traveling an hour or more to get to a doctor or piece of technology needed to treat them properly,” says Don Franklund, Innovative Energy Alliance co-general manager and CEO. “The primary mission of electric cooperatives is to serve their members, and so we were happy to put our support behind this project.” Roughrider Electric Cooperative is one of four electric cooperatives that make up the Innovative Energy Alliance.

Bertsch says the commitment from the cooperatives was important to the medical center, because it was an indication of community support. “Cooperatives are so community-driven, member-driven,” Bertsch says. “Having the support of organizations such as Basin Electric is extremely important because it shows commitment to the members of the cooperative, that they care about those members in the rural areas. From a health care perspective, they’ll be well taken care of in our facilities.”

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