Independent hospital grows despite trends

Ely Bloomenson Chief Executive Michael Coyle.

The Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital is defying what is a stark reality for most such health care facilities. Smaller stand-alone hospitals tend to struggle to survive in today’s marketplace.

The EBCH, however, is not only surviving, it’s expanding, and without any added tax liability for Ely residents.

“We are busting at the seams,” EBCH Chief Executive Michael Coyle said about the 21-bed, 60-year-old hospital. “And we’re growing fast.”

EBCH has had four different renovations in six decades, with the last one in 2008. Its  latest will make the hospital more efficient for staff and patients and provide room for expanded services, Coyle said.

It will include a drive-up pharmacy, better access to the helipad and needed additional parking. The radiology department will see a much more organized home for its increasingly modern equipment, including a new top-shelf 128-slice CT scanner, of which there is only one other in the country.

The SOMATOM go.TOP scanner — a million-dollar capital investment being leased for five years of payments —  provides better impressions with greater resolution.

“Every piece of our radiology equipment will be less than a year old,” Coyle said, once a new Tesla MRI machine “is up and running Aug. 1.”

EBCH has a busy health care campus that includes a 24/7, fully staffed emergency room, advanced radiology, nuclear medicine, cardiography, chemotherapy, various therapy services and the Essentia Health-Ely Clinic along with the Boundary Waters Care Center for skilled nursing and rehabilitation services.

The $16 million to $20 million renovation project is scheduled to begin next year, with $2 million needed for site development and the other millions for the hospital. 

It could be a joint venture with the YMCA, which is eyeing a new two-level facility connected to the hospital.

“We are like two trains with the same destination but on different tracks. But ours could start in 2020 and the YMCA perhaps a year later. But both will get there. I’m confident of that,” Coyle said.

The renovation project fits into Coyle’s vision of the EBCH as a full-service rural hospital through collaboration efforts.

That’s not easy to achieve these days because rural stand-alone hospitals face many challenges and have been trending downward.

But Coyle, who joined the EBCH in May 2018 from South Dakota, says the seven-person hospital board has been committed to staying independent rather than giving way to a large hospital system.

“We’re not forced to follow someone else’s directives. We’re heavily personally invested in our hospital. Our building staff are champions,” Coyle said.

It takes healthy revenues to remain a stand-alone hospital. That requires keeping a close watch on expenses while recruiting providers.

EBCH has kept an eye on expenditures with collaborative agreements. 

Regarding physicians, Coyle believes the natural beauty and lifestyle of the Ely area can be used as an innovative approach to more medical services.

“We can do our own outreach to new providers,” Coyle said. “We are blessed with beautiful lakes and a lot of doctors have cabins up here. If some of the doctors live in the Twin Cities, we can be an outpatient clinic for them. They can come up a day earlier or stay a day later and see some patients.”

Coyle said that approach to recruitment has already had some success. 

“We’re starting out small and growing it. That’s how smaller hospitals succeed today,” he said.

And how many people are involved in recruitment?

“Our human resource person and myself,” Coyle said.

Telemedicine has also been a great help. 

“It’s all about the patient experience. And specialty providers can have interactive appointments that are becoming real popular,” he said.

Coyle believes turning the hospital into the community hub will “attract more providers.”

“We are lucky that a lot of people are naturally drawn to Ely and that goes for providers, too. People come here not just for the paycheck, but for the beauty of the area,” he noted.

Coyle said his approach is part old-school customer service meshed with new technology for providers and patients. And if the YMCA becomes a reality, it will fit nicely into an EBCH campaign for “Well Care.” 

The renovation venture, which has been part of the EBCH long-range plan for years, will be financed by local funds, a sale of tax-exempt government bonds, and most likely a local capital campaign.

“The goal was to never use community tax dollars for it,” Coyle said.

He has received staff buy-in to his new and innovative approach. That’s just “common sense,” especially for an independent stand-alone hospital, he believes.

And for Coyle, that all adds up to a saying he believes represents EBCH well: “Attitude + Effort = Achievement.”