Bigfork Valley Hospital grew out of a vision: quality local health care supported by people of the area. The facilities changed, but the vision remains as firm as ever.
Answers to Wilderness Days trivia contest:
1. Who was the hospital’s first physician in 1941? Dr. Bender
2. Place in chronological order 1-5, where 1 is the earliest:
1-Construction of nursing home (1972)
2-First Arts & Crafts Fair (1974)
3-Change from city-owned to a hospital district (1975)
4-Opening of Villa apartments (1992)
5-Construction of Fitness Center (2012)
3. Number of beds in the first hospital was: 8
4. The Snoball Express was the first hospital bus. It started operating in: 1990
5. Hourly wages for a nurse’s aide in 1946: $0.65
The cornerstone of Bigfork Valley Hospital was laid in 1938 for a building now known as Riverside Residence. Community members formed a charity called the Northern Itasca Hospital Association to raise funds, and the Women's Hospital Auxiliary started that same year to support the project. The Auxiliary continues to this day.
Raising dollars was difficult during the Depression. The federal Works Progress Administration gave funds but required that the building and land be deeded to the Village of Bigfork. Community supporters volunteered thousands of hours, and an 8-bed hospital was opened in 1941. It held a surgery and delivery room, nursery, medical and dental clinic, and x-ray.
Four additional beds were added in 1953, and in 1960 the needs had grown so much that plans were drafted to build a new facility. Partners believed in the vision—federal, village and county governments gave almost $400,000. The Blandin Foundation contributed, and the community raised an astounding $415,000. The new building opened in 1965 in its present location, a few blocks east of the old hospital.
Ownership of the hospital changed from the city of Bigfork to a hospital district in 1975. The original hospital district included the city of Bigfork and the townships of Bigfork, Liberty, Marcell and Stokes. The following year the townships of Effie and Carpenter and 9 unorganized townships were added. Today the hospital board includes 13 elected directors from 2 counties: 3 cities, 6 townships, 2 representatives of unorganized townships and 2 representing the district at large.
Health care needs grew, but so did Bigfork Valley. A medical and dental clinic opened in 1971 in the facility, and a 40-bed convalescent and nursing care unit was added a year later. A major upgrade was completed in 1985, and in 1992 Bigfork Valley Villa (originally Pine Tree Villa), a new residential apartment building for senior living was opened. A helipad was laid to allow medical airlifts, thanks to community volunteers. A new clinic building was built in 1994, and by 1996 the hospital facilities were remodeled and brought up to date.
The Bigfork Valley Communities, the long term care nursing home, changed its approach to elder care in the late 1990s. It adopted an innovative care model following the philosophy of Eden Alternative® that gives preference to each elder's own choices. The change brought higher resident satisfaction and international recognition as a pioneer for a new model of care.
Bigfork Valley grew again in 2006, when a 2-story medical wing was built to house 2 surgical suites, procedure rooms, 11 acute care patient rooms, an emergency department, medical records and support areas. The original building was extensively remodeled to hold an expanded physical therapy department, cardiac rehab, fitness gym, Wellness Center, laboratory, imaging, retail and hospital pharmacy, specialty clinics and administration.
A new concept in senior living was introduced to the Bigfork Valley campus with a Twin Home development. These roomy duplex homes were designed especially for those retirees over 50 who wanted to downsize but stay in the area. They featured large closets, convertible bedrooms, quality fittings and a spectrum of services like lawn care.
Patients began receiving the national hospital patient survey, HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems), in 2006. It soon became clear that Bigfork Valley was doing something very special in its hospital. Since that time, the hospital has topped most of the categories in the survey in Minnesota and placed highly nationally. With that base, Bigfork Valley has received national recognition from the Women’s Choice Award, the National Rural Health Association and other national rating lists.
A new addition, including a Commons area, the Wanigan Cafeteria, Gift Nest, new dietary kitchen and 24/7 public membership fitness center, opened in 2012, heated and cooled using geothermal assist from 53 200-foot wells. Bigfork Valley was the second hospital in Minnesota to use this renewable energy source.
A new digital mammography center was made possible through a $586,070 grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust's Rural Healthcare Program. Using the space vacated by the old dietary kitchen, the design allowed spaces for ultrasound, DEXA scan and a radiologist reading room.
Aspen Circle, a new, secure memory care building, opened in December 2014. The addition has a progressive design to increase quality of life for dementia patients and increases the beds available in long term care on the campus to 47.