The public was invited to tour another new building in Minneapolis' Downtown East neighborhood Saturday, but this one did not involve offices, restaurants or football.
Instead, the Hennepin Healthcare Clinic and Specialty Center, with more than 25 primary and specialty clinics, five same-day surgery suites and other outpatient services, opened its doors for tours before it begins taking patients on March 26.
"We've needed this for about 20-plus years, so it has been a long time coming," said Dr. Jon Pryor, chief executive of Hennepin Healthcare, the new name for Hennepin County Medical Center.
Located across the street from the hospital's south entrance, the $225 million clinic has six floors for patient care and two levels of underground parking.
It is expected that the new building will see 530,000 patient visits by the end of the year.
Designed using input from patients and staff, the building is meant to be easy to reconfigure as needs change. There's space for two additional operating rooms as well as for added new patient floors on the south wing of the building.
Patients will mostly see other patients, artwork and plenty of downtown views as they walk through the building, while doctors and other clinicians will conduct meetings and use computers located in the building's core.
"There are no permanent offices," said Dr. William Heegaard, chief clinical officer. "We want this to be a place of clinical care."
Among the visitors Saturday were Ann and Tom Napp, who moved to downtown Minneapolis 10 years ago for retirement.
"It is absolutely beautiful. It is a wonderful addition to the neighborhood," Ann Napp said. "As we age, it will be nice to go someplace closer."
"They put a lot of thought into it, and it shows," Tom Napp said.
Hennepin Healthcare hopes the clinic will attract more downtown residents like the Napps.
"Downtown is growing in terms of its population that is living here, and they want a good health care system," Pryor said.
It could also help the financial bottom line if the system attracts more patients covered by private insurance.
A good portion of its patient base is covered by the state's Medical Assistance program, which has some of the lowest reimbursement rates in the market.
The new building consolidates many of Hennepin Healthcare's outpatient clinics, which now are spread throughout the hospital's five-block campus. Some clinics are so cramped that patients must wait in chairs in a hallway.
As the touring public filed through the new building, members from two local units of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) picketed in front of the clinic and the hospital across the street.
"They built this magnificent, beautiful building on the backs of workers," said Carmen Brown, president of AFSCME Local 977.
The union represents thousands of hospital workers, including clerical staff, licensed practical nurses and dozens of additional positions.
The union says that the hospital's offer of a 1.5 percent raise does not keep up with inflation and that management wants to eliminate the dental plan and cut performance raises by half.
In a written statement, Hennepin Healthcare said, "We value all employees and are committed to offering compensation and benefits that are fair, reasonable and consistent with similar jobs at other hospitals and clinics in the local market."