Morris City Council helps SCMC move forward with new ER

A one block section of 1st Street in Morris will be vacated to allow for the construction of a new Emergency Room at Stevens Community Medical Center in Morris. The Morris City Council approved an ordinance allowing for the vacating and also a resolution giving SCMC a Conditional Use Permit to build there.

The project did not move forward quietly however. During a public hearing portion of the council meeting on February 28, property owners at the corner of 1st Street and Montana Avenue voiced their opinion. 

Erika Stein presented several concerns about the new construction. Her house is on the corner across from the current ER and she stated that they have lived there through several renovation and construction projects at the hospital. She explained that they have had issues with parking, traffic, noise and people walking into their yard. She was worried that more construction would devalue her property and there would be construction noise as well as noise from equipment after construction that will affect their home. 

Stein voiced these and several other concerns during the public hearing and especially asked for better communication through this project. 

Kerrie McEvilly, CEO at SCMC, and Brad Hackenmueller from Carlson-LaVine, the general contractor for the project, gave a presentation during the public hearing. McEvilly stated that the reason for the new Emergency Room came down to a couple things. The volume of people seen in the ER is up about 8 percent and there is a need for more treatment rooms and a layout that includes a central nursing station. Additionally, this new ER plan includes two rooms that are designed to be ligature free, which means there is nothing in those rooms a patient can hurt themselves or others with.

McEvilly presented several slides with the exterior view and the layout of the new ER. The addition will be moved closer to Columbia Ave and extend into 1st Street. Ambulances and ER patients will enter from the Columbia Ave side. The walk-in entrance will also be utilized as the entrance for NovaCare Rehabilitation.

The new design includes an addition of a second trauma room plus four other rooms that will surround a central nursing station that has three entrances/exits. The design also includes a consult room where families/caregivers of patients in critical condition can wait and be kept updated, and there are two fast track rooms that will be utilized for patients with less acute conditions. The new area will have quick access to the imaging department with a private hallway to urgent care and to a new elevator that will allow for transport to the second-floor surgery department and the hospital. Patients being seen in the ER should not have to travel in high traffic areas and this will allow for more privacy.

McEvilly and Hackenmueller addressed some of the concerns by stating that they will stay in contact with the Steins and other SCMC neighbors throughout the construction process. Hackenmueller said that he will talk to construction workers about parking in a grassy area near the clinic parking lot. The entire construction area will be fenced for safety. They will have 10-hour work shifts and work four days per week. They will try to keep the noise down during the earlier and later hours.

SCMC is confident that noise concerns will be addressed with the purchase of new, quieter running equipment such as air handlers and chillers. The lighting at the ER will be updated to lights that shine only where needed and not out into the sky or surrounding area.  

Stein asked if this was the end of the construction at the hospital to which McEvilly replied that there was a Master Plan compiled which looked at all areas of the hospital. The plan would include the eventual demolition of the old hospital wing built in 1951. She had no timeline for this work which would be on the other side of the hospital from the Stein home.

The decision facing the Morris City Council was whether or not to vacate a portion of 1st Street for the project and to grant a Conditional Use Permit to facilitate the construction of the emergency room. Following the Public Hearing the council approved both items which will allow the project to move forward.

“I like it that we are expanding our hospital,” stated Councilman Brian Solvie. “I do understand your concerns and we need to encourage a direct line of communication with neighbors.”

Council member Kim Gullickson agreed with Solvie. “I can see that your experiences have been negative and I thank you for coming. It is always good to connect faces to the people being affected. I think it is good for the community to keep moving in that area. I thank you for coming and voicing your concerns.”

Mayor Kevin Wohlers added that with good communication we can move through this project painlessly.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, the council members also heard from a few residents with concerns about snow removal. Each of their concerns were noted and City Manager Blaine Hill will be looking into them. One included a damaged recycling container and another was snow being plowed onto the sidewalks. One person suggested doing snow alerts more similar to other cities with one side done on one day and the other side another day.

The city council learned that Widseth Architects are preparing plans for several projects that were discussed at meetings. Drawings are being made for an addition to the back of the Liquor Store for storage. A design to add handicap accessible bathrooms at the library is in the works. The new concession stand and bathroom building at Wells Park is also being worked on and Hill will be looking at possible grants for this project. The city is also continuing to explore options for solar panels on the water and sewer plants. 

In the final discussion of the meeting, a committee was designated to look in the search for a new city manager. The committee will include Mayor Wohlers and Councilman Jeff Miller, along with city employees Stacey Mogard and Whitney Millard. They will then report back to the full council.