Emergency room stands on its own in Chaska

  • Article by: TOM MEERSMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 12, 2011 - 9:25 PM

A new medical center with ER, urgent care and specialty clinics but no hospital is a move toward alternative care venues.

The doors opened last week at the Two Twelve Medical Center in Chaska.

They'll never be locked.

The four-story building, along and named after the recently rerouted highway, features the state's first free-standing urgent care and emergency department.

Like other ERs, it'll be open 24/7. Unlike other ERs, it's not connected to a hospital.

"There's no need for a hospital," said Robert Stevens, president and CEO of Ridgeview Medical Center. "The [southwest metro] market is well-served by hospital inpatient beds, but it had a gap in the emergency department and urgent care services."

Ridgeview owns and operates the center, and has its own hospital about 10 miles away in Waconia.

A similar facility called the Urgency Room opened last fall in Woodbury. It also markets itself as an alternative to hospital emergency rooms and offers faster service and cheaper rates, with staffing by ER-trained doctors and nurses. However, it is not open all night and does not accept ambulances.

The moves, on the heels of drop-in clinics in retail stores, reflect an ongoing effort by health care providers to experiment with alternative venues for delivering medical care.

'Big deal' for growing area

Most of the first floor at the new center in Chaska contains 18 rooms for emergency and urgent care, and other space for imaging and labs. About 20 other medical clinics -- some that relocated from nearby and others new to the area -- fill out the other three floors of the 162,000-square-foot building. It cost $18.7 million to build and another $12 million for clinics to fill with medical equipment.

Chaska City Administrator Matt Podhradsky said the center is a "big deal" for the city, which has been working with Ridgeview on the project for five years. It's especially important for the fast-growing Chaska-Chanhassen-Eden Prairie communities, he said. "It was quite a trek to get to a hospital emergency room, either by ambulance or driving."

Another key factor, Podhradsky said, was completion in 2008 of the newly aligned Hwy. 212, and the city's foresight in acquiring a strategic piece of land at its junction with Hwy. 41. "What the freeway did was really connect areas underserved in medical services," he said.

Dr. David Larson, medical director of emergency medicine at Two Twelve, said the Chaska facility is staffed with emergency physicians, including some from Children's Hospital in Minneapolis. "If we have a patient that comes in and needs to be admitted to a hospital," he said, "we can transfer them at no additional charge directly to an inpatient bed at one of the surrounding hospitals."

On the center's opening day, Feb. 1, four ambulances delivered patients and none needed to be transferred, Larson said. It was also busy with many children who were ill with colds, flu and infectious diseases.

Open all night for all ages

To some degree, Stevens said, the center is competing with some of the popular walk-in retail clinics that have sprouted as an alternative to a trip to the doctor's office.

The difference, he said, is that Two Twelve is open 24/7, has no age limits, and can deal with the whole gamut of illnesses and injuries. The goal is to provide a destination where consumers can go without worrying about limited hours or restrictions on care that might be needed. "That's new to the marketplace," he said.

That especially appeals to Chaska Mayor Mark Windschitl. "How many times have we sat at home and wondered do I need to go to urgent care, or an emergency room," he said. "You're never quite sure. Now you can walk in here and they make that decision for you."

Stevens said a two-tier payment system has been worked out with major health insurers in which patients needing urgent care are billed a "physician-only charge." Those needing emergency help will pay a higher rate.

Ben Nielsen, executive director of Ridgeview Medical Center, said that the new ER, urgent care and imaging facility hired 95 full-time and 35 part-time professionals, not including new jobs in some of the other clinics.

Chaska's Podhradsky said that besides filling a need, the center has rapidly become a source of pride for the community. About 4,000 people turned out for an open house and tour of the center on Jan. 29.

"It was neat because you could really tell that people were proud of it and that they really saw it as a community-builder," he said.

Tom Meersman • 612-673-7388

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