ELY — For more than 60 years the Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital has been an important healthcare resource for the residents of Ely and its surrounding communities and for the thousands of visitors that converge on the area each year on their way to and from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
“The local radio station and Chamber of Commerce proudly advertise Ely as ‘the end of the road,’” said Jodi Martin, EBCH Marketing and Communications Team Leader. “Highways in our neck of the woods are predominately two lanes, winding roads with limited visibility. Roadways can be hazardous to traverse in any season and are occasionally impassible in the winter. EBCH is vital to Ely and the surrounding communities for critical care and as a full-service healthcare facility to offer the services people need close to home.”
And now and thanks to a recent grant for some new high tech, state-of-the-art equipment for the Radiology Department, a pharmacy expansion, and plans for a number of new offerings – including an occupational program specifically tailored toward those in the mining industry - the facility is set to become an even more valuable asset for the residents of Ely and the surrounding communities.
According to Martin, the dream of a hospital in Ely started in February of 1955 with a $550,000 bond approved by then mayor J.P. Grahek and the Ely City Council. That bond was substantiated by a $100,000.00 donation from a resident of the area named Abe Bloomenson and the movement to fund a community hospital was underway.
According to officials at EBCH, a groundbreaking ceremony was held on Aug.28, 1955, and in late 1956 the Corporation known as Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital was formed. The corporation hired the first EBCH Administrator in May 1957 by the name of Hans Dahl. Dahl immediately set out on a fundraising campaign to raise an additional $100,000.00.
Through the sale of $100 membership shares and the opportunity for community members to create a living memorial by purchasing furnishings and equipment for the new hospital.
In November of 1957 with the help of a $50,000 contribution from Reserve Mining Co. the goal was realized. The plaques memorializing the individuals and families who donated monies for room furnishings and equipment can still be seen hanging in the hospital today.
Martin said community members can still purchase a membership for $100, “giving folks a voice in hospital business through the annual election for our Board of Directors.”
She added that since opening EBCH has grown into a modern Critical Access Hospital and Level 4 Trauma Center.
“We are a 21-bed licensed hospital offering 24/7 Emergency Care, state-of-the-art Diagnostic Imaging, in-house Lab, a full-service Rehabilitation Department, a full-time General Surgeon and much more. Our mission is to be committed to caring for and enhancing the health and well-being of the communities we serve,” Martin said. “We achieve this mission by continued growth and always looking to the future to find new ways to offer the services the community needs accompanied by the outstanding customer service provided by our knowledgeable staff.”
EBCH has also become the centerpiece of Ely.
“Our facility is one of the largest employers in the Ely community and is one of the largest economic drivers. When people are looking to relocate, many times healthcare is an important deciding factor. Providing a variety of local healthcare options allow residents to get care at home reducing cost for the patient, increasing local revenue in shops, convenience stores and restaurants,” said Michael Coyle, CEO.
While EBCH’s service area is primarily made up of Ely, Winton, Isabella, Babbitt, Tower and Soudan, over the past year officials there have seen the facility’s market area grow to include patients from communities like Duluth and Hibbing.
“This growth is in our outpatient services, swing bed program, Therapy Services and our Orthopedic clinic,” said Coyle.
Martin said EBCH offers a wide array of services including: Cardiac Rehab, Diagnostic Imaging, the only retail pharmacy in the area (since the Shopko Pharmacy closure), 24/7 fully staffed Emergency Department, General Surgery, Cardiac Rehabilitation, Infusion Therapy and Chemotherapy, laboratory, Orthopedics, Physical and Occupational Therapy, Sleep Studies, Swing Beds and a Wellness Center.
And now, thanks to grant from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, EBCH’s Radiology Department will soon boast fully digital radiography and full-time MRI in addition to 3D Mammography, Ultrasonography, Bone Densitometry and the latest, greatest 128 slice Seimens CT Scanner.
“These latest additions, made possible by the Helmsley grant, have the community we serve asking themselves ‘why go anywhere else?’” said Victor Aime, Radiology Team Leader.
According to Martin, the grant process began in 2018.
“We knew there were at least two pieces of equipment on the list that EBCH needed. That was the portable digital X-Ray (to replace an aging piece of equipment) and the fixed fluoroscopy system - to add new service lines. We sent in our letter of intent, which was an extensive application,” she said. “In early December 2018 we found out that we had made it through the first round and were invited to submit a final proposal.”
Martin said the final proposal invitation came with a tight deadline and application needed to be completed around Christmas.
“Complicating the process, EBCH was without a Radiology Team Leader until right before the final deadline when Victor Aime was hired to fill the post. With his expertise adding the finishing touches we sent in our final plan and waited to hear the results,” Martin said. “After an anxious two month, we finally received the good news that our application was going to be fully funded.”
Construction has already commenced on the room where the new fluoroscopy equipment will go.
“It is our intention that once the new equipment is in place EBCH will be able to offer several new services that were not previously available here,” Martin said.
According to a press release announcing the grant, the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust awarded more than $14.2 million in grants to 50 hospitals in the rural Upper Midwest to purchase new X-ray equipment. Some of the equipment being replaced is more than a half-century old.
Over the last four years, Helmsley’s Rural Healthcare Program has awarded more than $30 million in grants to 82 hospitals in the Upper Midwest to purchase state-of-the-art computer tomography (CT) scanners. The newest grants will allow replacement of 87 pieces of equipment, including: 32 fixed x-ray devices with an average age of 16 years; 47 portable x-ray devices with an average age of 28 years; 3 fixed fluoroscopy devices averaging 9 years old; and 5 portable C-arms averaging 16 years old.
“The Radiologic equipment acquired by the Helmsley Grant brings our Radiology Department into the modern era of being fully digital and expands the variety of imaging studies and supports interventional radiology procedures,” Aime said. “One of the stated goals in our Helmsley application was to expand the services of radiology to the community we serve and create an enticing atmosphere for the possible edition of on onsite Radiologist, Orthopedist, Pain Management, Cardiology and other medical specialists.”
Radiology isn’t the only area of EBCH where change and expansion are taking place. Officials say a number of new or expanded services are coming to the facility.
For one, EBCH is working with the mining industry to offer components of occupational health.
“This is a new venture and it’s still in the planning stages. Currently, EBCH does offer several services that benefit those that work in the mining industry including therapy, outpatient services, emergency room, orthopaedics and general surgery,” said Coyle.
EBCH is also in the planning stages of a hospital expansion project called “Get Health Ely” that will allow the campus to add additional outpatient services, expand its retail Pharmacy, expand surgical offerings, and provide a new main entrance to the hospital.
“A few major partners in this project is the Ely Regional Community Complex (ERCC) and the YMCA of Greater Minneapolis. The ERCC and YMCA is currently completing a feasibility study to examine the possibility of building a YMCA attached to the Hospital Expansion,” Coyle said.
Martin said most recently a major focus has been the retail pharmacy, Ely Community Pharmacy (ECP).
“With the closure of the Shopko Pharmacy we suddenly found ourselves as the only pharmacy in our service area and we went from filling approximately 150 prescriptions per day to upwards of 350 per day,” she said. “We knew the community was concerned with what would happen since ECP is rather small, but we met the challenges head on and responded quickly to the needs of the community.”
Martin said an additional check-out window was added, new staff was hired including two full-time pharmacists, and the hours of operation were expanded to include Saturdays.
“Since the dust has settled, the positive comments we have heard from the community are overwhelming. People are happy with the changes we have made and with our amazing retail pharmacy staff,” she added.
And officials at EBCH area also looking toward the future and what the needs of the community are going to be moving forward.
Martin said in January of this year they published the results of a recently completed Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA), which is something every non-profit hospital in the country is required by the federal government to do every three years.
“Through this process we partnered with a third-party vendor, The National Rural Health Resource Center, to conduct a survey of 800 households within our service area, along with focus groups and key informant interviews,” she said. “The assessment documents the things your hospital is doing well and the areas that you could use improvement based on way folks in the community are telling us.”
That data is used to complete an Implementation Plan on how officials at EBCH will make Strategic Changes to meet the needs of the community over the next three years.
“One area of improvement that was discussed throughout the process was the need for more Specialty Services. This is just not possible in the space we currently occupy. That is why we have begun the process to add a 36,000 square foot expansion onto EBCH.”