Ely hospital offers to assist Babbitt in relocating clinic to Municipal Center

by Nick Wognum

In a move that could save the city of Babbitt thousands of dollars, the Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital has put forth an offer to assist in moving the clinic to the Municipal Center.<BR><BR>Joanie Kragness of SMDC and EBCH Administrator John Fossum pitched the idea to the city council Monday night. <BR><BR>The council had been looking at remodeling the west wing or north wing of the city-owned Municipal Center to create space for a clinic.<BR><BR>Fossum said the hospital had looked at upgrading the building it owns in Babbitt and leases to SMDC. <BR><BR>“For us the cost of upgrades to the property exceed the amount of rent we would need to pay for the improvements,” said Fossum. “The reason for that is Medicare does not allow the hospital to give a rent discount to SMDC.”<BR><BR>Fossum said the hospital board of directors supports the need for a clinic facility in Babbitt, “But we need to pass the smell test and be 100 percent compliance with Medicare.” <BR><BR>The proposal would have the hospital come in and remodel around 3,000 square feet of the Municipal Center. In return the city would provide the space rent free for 10 years after which the city would own the improvements.<BR><BR>The hospital would be responsible for the cost of the improvements and would provide its own financing for the project.<BR><BR>“We would tie this all in with the agreement we have in place with SMDC and there would be a separate agreement between the Ely hospital and the city of Babbitt,” said Fossum.<BR><BR>He wasn’t giving odds, but Fossum warned there were some hurdles that had to be crossed to make the project a reality.<BR><BR>“There are no promises, no guarantees but it’s workable. There’s a whole lot of work to be done and we need to know if this is something you could live with,” said Fossum.<BR><BR>The remodeled space would also include a space for the hospital to provide physical therapy and for dentist Dr. Erickson.<BR><BR>Should a future mining project provide a need for more space, Fossum said the remodeling would be designed to remove the physical therapy area and give that space to SMDC.<BR><BR>“And the physical therapy rehab area may or may not tie in with the (proposed) Wellness Center,” said Fossum.<BR><BR>The city would be on the hook for little if anything. <BR><BR>“There is minimal investment on your part,” Fossum said to the council. “Even if SMDC were to leave you would still have a clinic built in your building.” <BR><BR>“There are no guarantees and I don’t know whether we can get it done, but the fact that we already have a lease and a financial relationship with SMDC, it’s a pretty good bet. And we have a group of docs who are very interested in improving the building they’re working in,” said Fossum. <BR><BR>The council members seemed to be in agreement with Fossum’s plan. Previously the city had looked at a fundraiser to pay for the improvements needed to create a space for a clinic. <BR><BR>“Without having a partnership with the hospital, I don’t think we could get this done in our timely fashion,” said Mayor Don Negley. “I like it because we don’t have to do any financing.”<BR><BR>Councilmember Dick Niss asked if the staffing level would change at the Babbitt clinic.<BR><BR>“SMDC would maintain the ability to staff appropriately if we get to the point where we see 20 patients in a half-day we would staff appropriately,” said Kragness. <BR><BR>“I would think if we had a modern clinic it would build confidence and more people would use it,” said Fossum. <BR><BR>Niss also asked if lab facilities would be included.<BR><BR>“Right now the lab is pretty minimal. The concern now is to get in a building that is in better shape than the one we’re in right now. We’re looking at transplanting what we have now,” said Kragness. <BR><BR>Niss said that lab services and staffing at the clinic are two issues that have been made known to him during the initial fundraising process.<BR><BR>Councilmember Ed Buck said he was concerned that the current clinic was not going to last much longer. <BR><BR>“What will Babbitt have if we don’t do something now?” Buck asked.<BR><BR>Negley said the city will need to look into whether a no-rent agreement will impact the bonds that were used to pay for the remodeling of the Municipal Center. <BR><BR>“Again, I can’t guarantee this will all fall into place but it’s a real solid shot we can do this to meet SMDC’s expectations. We’re looking to take care of the clinic first and we’ll compliment what they do,” said Fossum.<BR><BR>Negley asked if there were objections to the hospital proceeding and each council member said no. <BR><BR>Negley said he would like to see an expedited process where an agreement could be in place by August 1 with construction to start October 1.<BR><BR>“That’s pretty ambitious,” said Fossum. “But we’ll get cracking and see how much we can get for you and what the timeline will be.” <BR><BR>