Hospital expands surgery facilities

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Robotics coordinator Randy Mansfield watches as Mark Sanman, right, plays with a da Vinci Surgical System robot Tuesday afternoon during an open house for the new surgical suite at North Valley Hospital in Whitefish. (Patrick Cote/Daily Inter Lake)

North Valley Hospital opened its doors to the public Tuesday evening to showcase a fourth operating room and talk about future plans for the Whitefish hospital.

Chief Executive Officer Jason Spring said the expansion did not come cheap.

“It’s about 1,600 square feet and $1.7 million,” he said. “It’s expensive real estate.”

As Spring sliced the golden ribbon with a scalpel, spectators could see into the gleaming white operating room from the outside. It had been used in a procedure not even an hour before the public walked in.

The reason for the expansion was a burgeoning caseload of medical procedures, especially in obstetrics. Swank Enterprises constructed the addition.

“The facility was built for 250 deliveries,” Spring said. “We are now doing about 500 annually. Our master facility plan includes an expanded obstetrics center.”

The hospital relocated to its new facility south of Whitefish in 2007, and now has so many births scheduled that elective surgery schedules often have been disrupted.

The new surgery suite has an operating table as well as a $1.5 million da Vinci surgical system. It will help decrease the load — especially for delivering babies — on the other three operating rooms.

Randy Mansfield, the robotics supervisor, helped community members present at the opening use the intuitive da Vinci machine. The user controls the tiny pinching arms of the surgical robot from an operating station several feet away. With the machine, the clamps can easily grip and maneuver something smaller than the diameter of a pen cap as if the operator’s own hands were playing with a baseball.

Several flat screens throughout the suite and allowed surgeons, nurses — and in this case, community members — to view what the tiny metal arms were doing on the operating surface.

Director of Surgical Services Larry Schriver was present in his scrubs to welcome the visitors.

“It’s a fully integrated surgical suite that does procedures from robotics to general to orthopedics, ENT (ear, nose and throat) and dental,” he said. “The only thing we can’t do is vascular and eyes. Those go to Kalispell Regional.”

Schriver has noticed the increased number of babies delivered, and the scheduling difficulties with just three operating rooms in the 25-bed hospital. He said there are no signs of that stopping.

“We’ve seen 22 percent growth (in surgeries) over the last two years,” he said. “We’re probably going to see another 22 to 30 percent growth in the next couple” of years.

Spring said the new operating room was the first step in the master facility plan. The hospital is raising capital in its “Building for Generations” drive. The biggest improvement there is a proposed 8,000-square-foot addition for the Birth Center, along with renovation of 4,250 square feet inside the existing structure.

“I guess we expect to see growth with what’s going on through the [Affordable Care Act],” Spring said. “It’s very hard to predict. We are trying to stay ahead of that curve.”

Reporter Ryan Murray may be reached at 758-4436 or by email at

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