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Local View: Duluth's largest-ever private investment will improve health, our community

Photo courtesy of Essentia Health / This architect’s preliminary drawing shows the proposed new health facility from East Second Street and Fourth Avenue East.

Building a hospital tower, clinic, and outpatient surgery center is a complicated task requiring years of planning and the orchestration of many moving parts. Despite the complexity of the project, what improves the patient and staff experience can be surprisingly simple.

Our patients tell us they'd like fewer entrances, shorter walks to their appointments, and private hospital rooms. Single-occupancy rooms will afford greater privacy to discuss a diagnosis and enhance patient satisfaction. Our colleagues would like to be closer to their patients and team members and take fewer steps to the bedside or supply closet. They'd like space to learn, share, and provide the highest level of professional, compassionate care.

This will all be possible as Vision Northland becomes a reality.

The $800 million project represents the largest private investment in Duluth's history. Yet Vision Northland is much more than a construction project. It's our opportunity to transform health care for our community today and generations yet to come. It's also a commitment to a vibrant Northland, a catalyst to spur additional economic development, and a fulfillment of our mission to make a healthy difference in people's lives.

We will consolidate Essentia's footprint in downtown Duluth by building up instead of out, which will free up area for new development in the surrounding neighborhood. We're investing $675 million in the facility, along with another $125 million for related infrastructure and financing. The project is expected to create up to 650 construction jobs and aligns with our city's Imagine Duluth 2035 Comprehensive Plan. We look forward to building on our strong relationships in the community and in our Central Hillside neighborhood to help realize Duluth's great potential for growth.

Right now, we're in the schematic-design phase of the project, which means we're figuring out where departments will be located and how the facility will be organized. Essentia colleagues are participating in more than a dozen work groups, combining their expertise and creativity to shape the future of our patient-centered medical practice. Together, we're creating an environment that will allow us to retain and attract the brightest medical professionals and address future workforce needs. Through the thoughtful design of more efficient and effective workspaces, we will boost staff satisfaction and help make health care more affordable.

Quality and safety are paramount as we design our hospital tower and clinic. As we move forward with planning, we will continue to seek input from our colleagues, patients, and the community. While there's a lot to consider, every decision is viewed through the lens of our patients' and our staff's needs.

As we determine what goes into the new space, we are committed to being good stewards of our health care dollars. There are some specialized services that only Essentia Health can provide, such as our newborn and pediatric intensive care units. We must give these areas priority over services that others in the community can provide. When it comes time to decide whether to include amenities such as a fitness center, we will keep this criteria in mind.

There's a lot of work to do between now and 2022, when we anticipate moving into our new space. We appreciate everyone's patience as we progress through this major change.

We look forward not just to the completion of Vision Northland but also to the ways we can collaborate along the way, as we transform our care and our downtown medical campus. We truly appreciate all the support we've received from government, business, and civic leaders.

We're so grateful for our caregivers who do a stellar job serving patients today even as they plan for the future. We're grateful, too, for the opportunity to create a warm, inviting, and healing environment for our patients and their families that matches our colleagues' outstanding care and compassion.

David Gaddie is the board chairman for Essentia Health. Dr. David Herman is chief executive officer for Essentia Health. They wrote this exclusively for the News Tribune.

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