- Associated Press - Sunday, July 6, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Garrison Memorial Hospital sees 1,400 to 1,500 people in its emergency room annually. That is up about 20 percent over the last three to four years.

Tioga Medical Center patient numbers have increased fourfold, from 6,000 patients in 2010 to more than 24,000 today.

To meet this new demand, investments are being made in rural health care across the state, in areas where those facilities are the only medical care available for miles around.

“We’re the only hospital on (U.S. Highway) 83 between Minot and Bismarck,” Garrison Memorial Hospital Administrator Tod Graeber told The Bismarck Tribune (http://bit.ly/1nX9ox4 ). “Because we’re so far away from the larger cities … with strokes or heart attacks people may not survive.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture alone has invested more than $178 million in 42 projects since 2009.

“Our medical facilities are the foundation of our communities and critical components to supporting population and industry growth,” said Jasper Schneider North Dakota’s USDA Rural Development state director.

Alan O’Neil, the chief executive officer at Unity Medical Center in Grafton has been involved in three USDA-funded projects during his health care career - for the Jamestown Regional Medical Center, Richardton and Aneta.

“It’s always a challenge because we don’t have the critical mass or volumes,” O’Neil said of finding funding for rural health care projects.

He said without USDA funding, the $46 million loan for the new Jamestown Regional Medical Center would have been difficult.

“I think USDA is a very viable option,” he said

In Garrison, to accommodate the increase in patients, the hospital is using a $300,000 USDA grant it received in 2013 to expand its emergency room from two beds to four and upgrade equipment like defibrillators, cots and CPR devices.

Without the grant, Graeber said, the hospital would have had to use municipal bonds for funding.

Garrison is a big recreation area and Graeber said in the summer the hospital can get really busy. The expansion will reduce wait times.

In addition to better patient flow, O’Neil said the Jamestown project helped the hospital recruit staff as well as patients.

“Health care is a cutting-edge industry. New and improved is what people are looking for,” he said. “It’s a proven fact that new facilities enhance the ability to recruit professionals.”

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