Julie Crawford was a wee bit pregnant last year when she interviewed to lead the construction of the new Park Nicollet Women’s Center in St. Louis Park.
Her employer, Mortenson Construction, was one of three finalists vying for the multimillion-dollar job.
How pregnant? “Very,” she said, laughing, when asked recently.
Crawford, a project manager for Mortenson, interviewed for the job by video, apologizing for not appearing before Park Nicollet decisionmakers in person. “Obviously, as you can see,” she explained in the video, “I’m set to deliver my second child at [Park Nicollet’s] Methodist Hospital … tomorrow.”
Not long after, on May 13, Robert Edward Crawford IV (“Robbie”) burst into the world weighing a strapping 9 pounds, 15 ounces. And Golden Valley-based Mortenson got the job.
Almost a year later, the Park Nicollet Women’s Center has opened, combining more than 15 preventive and specialty care services into a single location on the fifth floor of the Heart and Vascular Center on the Methodist Hospital campus. While hospital officials say Crawford’s pregnancy wasn’t necessarily the closer for Mortenson, a team of women both internally and externally led the charge for the new center, as well as its build-out.
“We know what we want because we are women,” said Andrea Winter, senior director of women’s services at Park Nicollet Health Services.
The center not only features traditional women’s services, such as annual OB/GYN and mammogram appointments, but also specialties such as mental health, nutrition counseling and vascular surgery consultation. Massage, aromatherapy and acupuncture are among the services also available. About 130 people staff the center, 20 of whom are physicians. (Five are new hires.)
The general idea is to make health care delivery faster and easier for busy and often-harried women by offering one-stop shopping in a single location — one that is open on Saturdays, too. Experts say that because women tend to make most of their family’s health care decisions, their initial experience at a facility can influence a long-term relationship with a hospital or health care system.
“In family health care, women often put themselves last,” Winter said. “We want to do whatever we can to make them feel comfortable.”
The center was modeled in part after the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Specialized Women’s Health and the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies in Orlando. While women’s hospitals have been around for decades, advocates in recent years have pushed for facilities and programs that focus on research and health care that is geared specifically toward women.
The trend dovetails with the advent of the Affordable Care Act, which will add more than 25 million people to insurance rolls by 2016. The influx has prompted major health care providers to reposition their facilities to meet this surging demand, according to a recent Compass report from the Bloomington real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield/NorthMarq.
“As more patients have access to health care and more of a choice about where they receive care, they are expected to seek care at better facilities,” the report states. “Essentially every system [in the Twin Cities] is planning to improve their facilities in one capacity or another to entice the newly insured to utilize services beyond the emergency room.”
Plus, a “friendly debt environment” and low interest rates should allow more bonding and financing for such projects, the report added.
“We are seeing a lot more systems creating centers of excellence,” said Stephen Brown, executive director for the Health Care Advisory Group for Cushman & Wakefield/NorthMarq. “For lack of a better term, they’re trying to build a better mousetrap to attract consumers.”
Mortenson has been a big player in the market — it is currently the nation’s fifth-largest builder in the category, tallying more than $1.1 billion in health care construction projects since 2012. Locally, the firm’s recent projects include Allina’s Abbott Northwestern Hospital’s East Tower expansion, Fairview Ridges Ambulatory Surgery Center, Ridgeview Medical Center’s Two Twelve Medical Clinic, and renovations to the University of Minnesota Physicians building.
Patients at the Park Nicollet Women’s Center, which cost $4.9 million to construct, may experience more of a luxury hotel vibe than a sterile hospital setting. The main waiting room is sleek and filled with natural light. Patients are offered a complimentary beverage and they can check out iPads at the front desk for Web surfing. And the robes they don later in their visit are purposely soft, distinctly un-scratchy, and provide ample coverage.
“We want patients to come here and experience a spa-like environment, but receive quality care that is evidence-based,” Winter said.
The 27,000-square-foot penthouse space, which overlooks Minnehaha Creek and its wooded environs, was vacant for nearly six years after the Heart and Vascular Center opened. Ideas about how to use the space came and went, but a women’s center was the one concept with staying power.
Ultimately, operations from Park Nicollet’s Methodist Hospital, the Meadowbrook facility and another clinic in St. Louis Park were consolidated into the space. (AECOM was the project’s architect.)
No one could be more delighted than Crawford. As a patient at Park Nicollet for a decade, it bothered her that, as she sat in waiting rooms for doctor’s appointments, Mortenson’s name wasn’t mentioned on the wall of contractors who had worked on the health care system’s buildings.
Now, when she visits her physician, Dr. Marcia Caron, she’ll be sitting in the very same waiting room she helped to construct.