Weather Forecast


Riverwood Healthcare Center completes first expansion phase

1 / 3
2 / 3
3 / 3

AITKIN — Natural light, increased privacy and quiet were all incorporated into Riverwood Healthcare Center’s expansion and renovation.

The project began in May of 2011. This month, phase one is slated for completion giving patients private rooms, incorporating nature through photography and a courtyard, and adding features designed to make a hospital stay as restful as possible.

When Riverwood began its renovation plans, it had one redesigned room set up and then invited nurses and staff to use it and see what worked and what didn’t. Ideas were incorporated into the final product from placement of oxygen lines to a patient suggestion for a cabinet where linens could be exchanged without entering the room. A central nurses station was removed and nurses given mobile computer stations with small tuck-in bays outside patient rooms moving them closer to patients. Windows in the hallway let nurses visually check on patients without disturbing them by going in and out of rooms.

Semi-private rooms at the hospital were converted to 25 single patient rooms. Fourteen of the new rooms will be open to patients on April 23. Riverwood reported existing semi-private rooms will be renovated to match the look of the new rooms. Family friendly sofa sleepers were added to accommodate an overnight stay and make a more comfortable seating area for visitors.

Some rooms look out on an accessible courtyard. Nature photography from community members line the hallways and add color to individual rooms with wood tones more reminiscent of a hotel room than a traditional hospital room.

Mike Delfs, Riverwood chief operating officer, said the added privacy assists in healing and patients who may have been reticent to talk separated from a roommate by a curtain, will now be able to speak candidly with their doctors.

“We really tried to design these rooms very thoughtfully,” Delfs said.

The hospital reworked birthing suites in a more private area with its own family waiting room. A third delivery room was added.

The birthing suites and private rooms have a special tile floor that resembles wood but is designed to reduce noise. Color choices were made in a conscious effort to provide a calming atmosphere. Hallways are carpeted in another noise reduction effort. Window views are a dominant influence with special shades to give patients the option of letting in natural light while still retaining privacy.

Delfs said with the upgrades to the birthing unit, the hospital is working to meet the atmosphere expectant parents want for the birth experience. People have already toured the suites and made the decision to have their babies in Aitkin. “I’m very excited to see that happening,” Delfs said, noting the upgrades mean parents no longer have to leave the area to have the amenities they want. About 80 babies are born annually at Riverwood. In the past Riverwood’s birthing rooms were so cramped for space, it wasn’t unusual to see fathers in the hallways.

Next door, the intensive care unit (ICU) has more space, a family waiting room and nurse’s station with central view of the individual ICU patient rooms.

For Delfs, a key upgrade was creating a separate space for the chemotherapy and infusion treatments that has its own entrance off the main doors. The five private patient bays are now separated by a wall and each has a large window. Delfs said this was his favorite addition because it made such a significant and immediate impact on the patients who often are making regular trips for treatment.

The separate entrance was designed to provide greater protection for chemotherapy patients isolating them from contact with other illnesses. The space is connected to the emergency room (ER) and can act as overflow if needed for ER patients.

In addition, the patient rehabilitation area doubled in size and brought together physical therapists and orthopedic surgeons.

Delfs said a common question is whether the upgrades translate to higher costs. That isn’t the case, he said, noting rates are set by Medicare and that is the main payer for Riverwood.

Instead, the work to improve the environment is a way for Riverwood to compete in the region and retain patients who were willing to travel for services.

Still under construction is a two-story addition on the hospital’s south end. Hospital staff, about 60 to 70 employees, and support areas like information technology and medical records, billing and administration will be housed there.

Renovations will continue on the surgery department enlarging the lobby, adding consulting rooms and technology. Other changes will move the pharmacy closer to the nursing floor.

Originally, the plan called for completion of the hospital expansion and renovation this year. But Riverwood is going to rework the main entrance and complete all the phases by May of 2013.

Delfs said one question they asked themselves was why patients had to come in and be redirected to register at one reception area for the hospital and another for the clinic. So the plan is to create a single registration area no matter where the patient is going.

Riverwood reported the expansion project is creating 130 construction jobs with $6 million in salaries employing Aitkin area contractors.

The Riverwood Foundation’s capital campaign has a goal of raising $2.2 million of the estimated $21 million cost. More than $1.5 million has been raised or pledged for the project. And a $12 million low-interest loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development fund is going toward the project.

RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at 855-5852 or Follow on Twitter at

Renee Richardson
Richardson is a Pacelli High School graduate from Austin, Minn., who earned an applied science degree from the University of Minnesota, Waseca, with an emphasis in horse management. She worked extensively in the resort industry. She received an associate’s degree from Central Lakes College, where she was editor of the Westbank Journal student newspaper, as well as a summer intern at the Dispatch. She graduated from St. Cloud State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and interned at the St. Cloud Times covering business while attending SCSU. She's been with the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996.
(218) 855-5852