Idaho Falls Community Hospital is set to open and begin treating patients in less than a month.
Construction on the city’s newest hospital is scheduled to end on Oct. 25 and the facility should be up and running on Nov. 4. The three-story facility located next to Mountain View Hospital will include a 22-bed emergency room, 16-bed intensive care unit, hundreds of staff members and the ability to immediately treat dozens of patients.
Community Hospital’s staff have repeatedly said that the goal of the new facility is not to bring new services to Idaho Falls. Instead, the hospital will be offering another option in the region for many hospital procedures, which could lead to improved quality of care or lower costs for patients.
“There’s obviously a need because the public has been asking for this. They want other options for their treatment,” Director of Nursing Linda Wolsey said.
The new hospital cost $113 million to build in the year since it was first announced and an additional $30 million to stock with equipment. If the hospital becomes fully staffed at some point, it will have nearly 300 members of the medical staff and more people working behind the scenes or at the outdoor restaurant and café.
Mountain View Hospital is a physician-owned facility, which means that its ability to grow is strictly limited by the Affordable Care Act. Idaho Falls Community Hospital is a partial workaround to those limits — a separate business that is closely tied to Mountain View but offers a different range of services and facilities.
“It will be a naturally evolving process for the patients. People have already established a rapport with the referring doctors in the Mountain View system, and there’s a connection between the two, so that should be a smooth process,” said Dr. John Miller, director of the intensive care unit.
Some of the connections between the two facilities are literal. The two hospitals will split a lobby area, with signs directing Mountain View patients to the left and Community Hospital patients to the right. Three other hallways on different floors of the hospitals will also offer connections between the two.
Others are more prominent behind the scenes. Both Mountain View and the Community Hospital are managed by Surgery Partners, a Tennessee-based company that operates and invests in hundreds of medical facilities across the United States.
Like many mostly rural states, Idaho has been dealing with nursing shortages for several years and the addition of a new hospital could only exacerbate the effects of the shortage. Currently, the main medical staff at Idaho Falls Community Hospital is around 60 people and the total staff is just over 160 people, half the number originally announced to keep it fully staffed.
The ”employment opportunities” page of the hospital website lists 155 jobs that still need to be filled. Open positions listed on the website include members of the nursing staff for several departments of the hospital, a lead ultrasound expert and security guards for the day and night shifts.
While department leaders acknowledge the openings that still need to be filled, many said the allure of a brand-new program has been successful in attracting enough new hires to keep the opening date on track.
“I’ve only known one or two other doctors who had the opportunity to be involved in a hospital from the day it opens its doors. That is a big draw for people,” ER director Jeremiah Brock said.
Wolsey said the hospital has used Facebook ads to help get in contact with potential nurses for the hospital. While some new employees have been brought in from Utah, Montana and Wyoming, much of the current staff transferred to the Community Hospital from other facilities in eastern Idaho.
Teton Hospitalists and Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center ended their contract at the beginning of July. Dr. Jared Morton renamed his company to Snake River Hospitalists and brought himself and a half-dozen other physicians over to the Community Hospital, where he is currently the director of the hospitalist program.
“It’s an opportunity none of us thought we would get in our lifetime, to help create a hospital from the ground up,” Morton said.
EIRMC spokeswoman Coleen Niemann said the hospital has been happy with the hospitalist company that replaced Teton. She also emphasized that there was no treatment that would be offered at the Community Hospital “that isn’t already being offered in Idaho Falls.”
The hospitalists aren’t the only doctors and nurses who left EIRMC to help start the new hospital. John Miller had worked at the hospital for nearly 10 years when he accepted the offer to become the director of the ICU at Community Hospital and oversee the 16-bed facility. He continued to work at EIRMC through the end of September and repeatedly emphasized there were no bad feelings behind his decision to leave.
“It’s a friendly race. You strive to be the first one breaking the tape but you also want your friend to do well. Our goal is not to compete in a way that’s destructive,” Miller said.
Doctors could end up splitting time between hospitals to help reduce the impacts of the shortage. Community Hospital and the two existing hospitals in Idaho Falls have an open medical staff, allowing the doctors to work at multiple locations if they want to.
The trauma section of the emergency room is the only section of Community Hospital that is expected to not be ready when it opens. Brock expected the hospital to potentially treat up to 40 patients during its first day.