LAKE CITY — After the Buffalo Bills’ safety Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest on the football field on Jan. 2, it was a shocking reminder that seconds count during a health emergency. While the NFL is far removed from Stewart Memorial Community Hospital (SMCH), this rural hospital’s $31 million renovation/expansion project in Lake City is providing the latest technology and high-quality medical care, close to home.

“When we broke ground in September 2020, our goal was to expand SMCH’s medical services, as well as improve efficiency, safety, security and privacy throughout the hospital,” said Cindy Carstens, CEO of Stewart Memoroial, a 25-bed, critical-access hospital. “It’s exciting to see all this become a reality.”

While the entire project is on track to be completed by late summer 2023, some parts of the expansion project are already open, including the new emergency department. This area is three times bigger than the previous emergency area.

“Each trauma bay in this new facility is similar to the size of the entire three-bay area in the previous emergency room and offers much more privacy for patients,” said Lara Cornelius, SMCH’s emergency department director.

The medical equipment in each trauma bay can connect with Avel eCare, which takes telemedicine to the next level. SMCH works with the Sanford Health system in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to provide the highest quality of care, whenever it’s needed.

“With this technology, we always have access to medical specialists,” Carstens said. “This is especially valuable for medical emergencies we deal with infrequently, such as burn patients.”

The expanded emergency department also includes X-ray equipment and a CT scanner, making it easier for health care providers to quickly and efficiently examine trauma patients. In addition, the emergency department features specially-designed exam rooms to accommodate patients with behavioral health needs. A consult room provides a private space where patients’ loved ones can meet with health care providers or a member of the clergy during their time of need.

“The entire emergency department is a quieter, calmer environment that’s much more soothing than the previous system,” Cornelius said.

No detail has been overlooked. A new helicopter landing area separate from the main traffic flow is located near the new ambulance garage by the emergency department. Thanks to the renovation process, separate hallways for public and private use will create more privacy for patients, both in the emergency department and throughout the hospital.

SMCH Expands therapy services

People are especially excited about the modern, spacious, rehab-services therapy facility that’s part of Stewart Memorial’s “Putting People First” $31 million renovation/expansion project.

“This new space is three times bigger than our previous therapy area,” Carstens said.

With an array of exercise and therapy equipment, a basketball hoop, daylight windows and private treatment rooms, this facility is a generous gift from Nancy and Gus Macke, long-time Lake City residents and owners of Macke Motors in Lake City. This new rehab center, which is named in honor of the philanthropic couple’s family, is allowing the hospital’s six physical therapists, two speech therapists and two occupational therapists to serve a wide range of needs.

A sensory therapy area serves children with attention deficit issues and autism spectrum needs. Smith Memorial also offers Bioness Integrated Therapy System (BITS), a large, interactive touch-screen therapy device to measure hand-eye coordination, reaction time, depth perception and more. BITS also supports treatment of memory and attention deficits related to dementia, stroke or post-illness issues.

“If you’re wondering if it’s safe for a loved one to continue driving, we offer a driving screening process with BITS to measure reaction time and other key factors,” Carstens said.

For patients with chronic soft-tissue pain or calcium deposits, the hospital’s therapy department offers radial pulsewave therapy (RPT). This technology is most commonly used to treat chronic foot, heel and ankle pain. However it can be used on many soft tissue issues.

“It’s effective for shin splints, plantar fasciitis, tennis elbow, jumper’s knee and similar conditions that don’t respond well to traditional therapies,” said Rachel Judisch, director of rehabilitation services. “We’re one of only four providers in Iowa that offer RPT.”

RPT uses a low electromagnetic impulse to create a wave that penetrates into a targeted area, breaking up scar tissue and adhesions that put pressure on the surrounding nerves. Reducing pressure and increasing blood circulation to the problem area promotes healing and increases range of motion.

Amy Vote experienced life-changing results when she tried RPT at Stewart Memorial. A calcium deposit in her shoulder caused her severe pain. She’d planned on having surgery to remove the deposit, but RPT reduced it by 90 percent, allowing her to avoid surgery and return to her favorite activities pain-free.

“I’ve gone back to my normal activities — working out, lifting weights, and even playing volleyball — with no pain,” Vote said.

Putting People First

Other improvements that are part of the hospital’s renovation/expansion project include more dedicated space for women’s health services provided by Stewart Memorial’s physical therapy team.

This is especially important for patients dealing with urinary incontinence, pelvic pain and pelvic floor problems. While many people believe these challenges are a normal part of aging, or something women have to live with after having kids, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. These disorders often can be improved or reversed with treatment, according to Ann Riat, an SMCH physical therapist.

“We used to have to take patients to areas by the operating room to provide these services, due to space limitations,” Carstens added. “Now we have a comfortable, private space within the rehab department where we can provide better patient care.”

SMCH continues to provide a wide range of obstetrics and gynecology services.

“We’ve had close to 90 babies a year born at SMCH each year for the last several years,” Carstens noted.

In addition, the hospital is offering expanded cardiac rehab services and respiratory therapy, including sleep studies. The Stewart Memorial team is currently assessing the feasibility of offering a pulmonary rehab program.

“We incorporated extra space throughout this expansion/renovation project to allow SMCH to accommodate patients’ needs for years to come,” said Carstens, who added that the hospital also has clinics in Lake View, Rockwell City and Gowrie.

The $31 million expansion/renovation project in Lake City is helping Stewart Memorial recruit and retain top medical professionals.

“Homegrown talent is helping us meet the needs of older patients, younger patients and everyone in between,” Carstens said. “All this is helping make SMCH a catalyst for more local economic development and improved patient care as we put people first.”

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