Twenty-six million dollars sounds like an awful lot of money, doesn't it?
That's how much rookie quarterback Carson Wentz makes, and how much Blake Shelton is paid for doing a season of "The Voice." That much would almost buy you a Ferrari American Spyder automobile or rare "Inverted Jenny" 1918 stamp. It would buy a nifty house on the beach in Malibu, two blimps, or mometarily pay off nearly .002 percent of the national debt.
And that's the price tag for the new addition at Buena Vista Regional Medical Center.
I was excited to get a tour of the place shortly before it opened, courtesy of BVRMC's fantastic marketing director Katie Schwint. I had toured the place in a construction helmet back when it was still bare steel beams, but I've never been able to translate a construction site and those pastel architectural conceptions into what a real building will be.
I wondered what $26 million will buy.
As it turns out, an amazing amount. And I've seen a lot of construction. I don't impress easy.
A hospital isn't something most of us think about every day. Until - wham - we need it, and suddenly it is the most important thing in our world.
The place is beautiful - a gently-curved glass-encased entry opening into a towering lobby with a giant mural of welcoming words from around the world (the schools helped BVRMC determine all the native languages spoken by families here). The reception desk is front center - no wandering. A video screen features hospital staff from various departments with a cheerful welcome. Heck, if someone's about to give me the old rubber glove treatment, I might as well get to know them a bit in advance, if not have them take me to dinner and a movie first.
I could go on about all the architecture, design elements and materials, but that's not what you want to know. You want to know how it feels.
When you arive at a hospital, you're likely to be scared, worried, and of course, maybe sick as a dog.
What you don't want is confusion, lines, glaring lights and harsh, antiseptic surroundings. This place says come in, let me help you, it's okay, we've got you covered.
Instead of standing at a counter trying to register through an awkward little hole in bullet-proof glass there are three separate rooms where you can sit down and be taken care of, one-on-one, with some privacy. Instead of doors, sliding glass panels make access simple, even with a wheelchair. The big, clear signage makes it easy to understand where you're headed and why, even if you don't speak English. An interpreter's office is right there in the main corridor if needed.
That corridor exudes calm and comfort, from the soft and textured materials to the colors and lighting. It could be in a high-end hotel. I admire the little touches, like built in seating on the walls for loved ones to have a place while a patient is being admitted - if you've ever had to stand around with your hands in your pockets trying to stay out of people's way while under stress, you can imagine how such details can matter.
The same comforting vibe is felt in the new intensive care and inpatient rooms. The flooring is made to look like hardwood like you would find in someone's living room. They are laid out masterfully, to accommodate patient and staff, no matter the mobility or issue. Closing panels can tuck away all the equipment that may make a patient tense, and seating in each room converts ingeniously into small pullout beds to allow a loved one to stay with a patient when that situation is appropriate.
In the OB unit, a mother can go from pre-birth to delivery to recovery all in their own room - there is even a specially-designed sink to bathe the baby right from the womb, importantly keeping its body temperature stable. The nursery, named for donors Dr. Bruce and Helen Vander Kooi (doc delivered my daughter in this building about a quarter-century ago) features great advancements to keep babies safe, and even separate windows for viewing from the OB unit and the public.
For emergency patients coming into the facility, the ambulance dock means that they will never have to be exposed to the elements. It's own reception desk guides people to care instantly, and there is even a decontamination chamber first thing inside the doors where patients can be quickly showered if they have come into contact with chemicals or other contamination. The emergency room itself can be divided into separate units by moveable glass panels, allowing much more privacy than the old divider curtains. The entire unit is fully secure and separate from patients in other areas, hard to do in the old building.
What strikes me is how well it all works - everything that needs to be in close proximity to something else, somehow is. From nurses stations to walls angled to encourage movement in the proper directions, it just makes sense, like peeking inside a fine watch.
As Katie demonstrated the inner workings of how each space in the new facility works together with those around it, I had one of those moments where you realize that you never knew how much you never knew.
There is a lot packed into this new space - obstetrics, intensive care, emergency rooms, rehabilitation, lab, inpatient rooms. Much of those things that a community most relies on a hospital for - and yet spaces are more numerous than before, roomy and uncrowded.
This is an impressive design, and I'm not talking about all the beautiful architectural touches. Strip all the pretty away, and underneath even a medically-uninformed tenderfoot like me can feel that the bones of this place are ultimately efficient, functional, every square foot with a place and purpose.
Our hospital in the past, and most rural primary care facilities, I imagine, have been piecemealed together over time, one addition on top of the next, repurposed now and again as needs and technology evolve. It can be hard to tell where to go in for what, and which direction to go once you get there, especially if you are in crisis and not thinking straight. Staff make the most of what they have, patients and loved ones live with whatever inconveniences dated buildings may cause.
This new facility, designed from the ground up for its specific inter-related purposes, is not that old kind of medical center. With it, the entire campus, new and existing, has basically been re-imagined, to the point of the bold step of entirely switching the "front" and "back" orientation of the complex.
My take-away? Amazing facility, more than could have been expected, and it will serve the Storm Lake area well. Our physicians, nurses and staff are already excellent (after all, a building never healed anyone). This is a tool suited to their talents.
To achieve this development without a tax increase or hiking patient fees is extraordinary.
Indeed, $26 million is an awful lot of money. And it looks like a bargain.