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New $51M hospital doubles patient capacity in rural Wis. county

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By Rachel Mergen
La Crosse Tribune

WHITEHALL, Wis. — Rural health care is about to get an upgrade for about 20,000 residents in central Trempealeau County.

The new 68,000-square-foot, 31-bed Gundersen Tri-County Hospital, full of up-to-date technology and modern medical services, will open its doors to the public July 24.

The $51 million project, which will double the hospital’s patient capacity, also includes remodeling the existing 17,000-square-foot clinic.

The project was made possible with donations, federal funds and a large bond, said Gundersen Tri-County Hospital and Clinics administrator Joni Olson.

She said that the project is “a huge spend and a big commitment to rural Wisconsin.”

Olson said the new hospital that would offer “state-of-the-art patient care services” was not available in the previous building.

The new hospital replaces a facility originally built in the 1960s that was renovated in the 1990s.

Work to build the new hospital began in 2019. Construction crews broke ground in March 2022.

Olson said it was not easy working on the project during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, but she credits her team for being able to get the project done and keep it to the original timeline set.

“Health care has so many technological needs that we’re not able to meet or adapt to in an older building,” Olson said. “Everything is built in and planned around those technology needs in this new facility.”

Staff said patients will benefit from the improvements.

“We’re really looking forward to all of the advances we’ll be able to make in patient care,” said Gundersen Tri-County Hospital and Clinics’ emergency department supervisor and ambulance service director Bri Rotering.

Rotering has worked at the Whitehall location for almost 10 years. She said the larger space will improve workflows for staff.

“Our rooms are going to be much better equipped than they are now,” she said. “It was really hard in the old hospital. There was a lot of old fittings, old fixtures and we made the best do. But with all the new modern technology that we’re going to have here, it’s really going to make it much easier to care for our patients.”

Olson said one of the largest improvements in the emergency department will be two dedicated, state-of-the-art trauma bays, which will be set up to allow for more specialized care.

Another large advancement that will benefit patients throughout the hospital are fully private rooms — something that wasn’t possible in the previous building.

This includes patients in pre- and post-operation rooms, who will receive their procedures in new state-of-the-art operation rooms, Olson said.

A helipad landing zone near emergency services and an ambulance and maintenance building will also be added to the facility.

The new space will allow improvements to other services offered at Gundersen Tri-County, such as specialty services, inpatient care and rehabilitation services.

A solar installation built with $1 million in federal funds will support about 50% of the hospital’s electrical needs.

“I can’t wait till people get in and come see this place. I think they’re really going to be surprised,” Rotering said. “It’s just a beautiful, beautiful building with a lot of beautiful workspaces, so I think people are just really going to love it.”

After July 24, the old hospital will enter a decommissioning period that will continue into September, when it will be demolished in a way that protects the environment and community.

After that, parking — which will include hookups for electric cars — and landscaping will be completed before the project’s end date of Nov. 1.

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