Meet the new North Valley Hospital

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Karla Herrmann shows off a meditation room that is intended to provide a calm and relaxing space for patients and their families. Chris Jordan/Daily Inter Lake

By CANDACE CHASE- The Daily Inter Lake

Hospital officials beamed as the sun came out Friday for the media premier of North Valley Hospital's new $30 million facility on the south end of Whitefish.

The building opens for patients March 22.

Craig Aasved greeted media people from as far away as Eureka. Chief executive officer since 2000, Aasved has steered the project from a rocky beginning through a relatively smooth construction period.

Swank Enterprises, the general contractor, finished on time and $29,000 under budget. Workmen were still completing "punch list" items at the time of the tour.

"For the most part, it's all come together," Aasved said. "There have been a lot of challenges and obstacles, but the end result has been fantastic."

Standing in the main entry on the north side, he said most people seem surprised and pleased that the building doesn't look like a hospital. The north to south central corridor looks more like a lodge, with a soaring ceiling and windows admitting natural light.

Staff began preview tours this month for a variety of groups, including hospital employees, the board of Kalispell Regional Medical Center, emergency medical service groups, clergy and morticians.

North Valley Hospital invites the public to a celebration and guided tours from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 24, and Sunday, Feb. 25. Visitors should park in the north lot, where the main entry serves as the starting area for festivities.

Aasved said that final touches such as furniture and art work were installed recently.

"It has a different feel now," he said.

The leaders of various departments emphasized major changes from the three-decades-old building that is just past McDonald's in downtown Whitefish. Janet Arnold, manager of the emergency department pointed out the drive-through covered ambulance bays.

Emergency vehicles have to back up to the old building's emergency entrance.

"Not only do the ambulance people get wet, so do the patients," she said.

Arnold gestured toward walls of windows, a feature usually missing in emergency rooms.

Shari Yeager, manager of imaging services, showed off the new 1.5 Tesla magnet MRI that features a larger opening for patients. At the current building, the MRI is in a trailer outside the hospital.

"My tech is really excited that she doesn't have to go to the back lot anymore," Yeager said with a laugh.

In the birth center, women may choose water births in an AquaDoula Tub. Cindy Walp, manager of that department, said the portable tub was temporarily at the old hospital.

"We've had about 15 people take advantage of that so far," she said. "They love it."

Three labor-and-delivery rooms and three postpartum rooms offer soft music, low lighting and homey touches to help patients relax.

"We know research shows that people more relaxed in labor have less complications," Walp said.

Moving through the central corridor to the patient rooms on the east side of the hospital, Karla Herrmann of community relations pointed out glass doors that slide shut for privacy as patients get moved across that public area.

Kathy Rea, leader of the medical/surgical/pediatric wing, led the group through North Valley's six private and 12 semi-private patient rooms. The corridors spotlight vintage photographs from Lacy's Studio of Whitefish.

Tour participants are wowed by the vaulted ceilings, French doors, healing-garden areas, window seats and earthy, soothing color schemes in the patient rooms.

"All of us were in on the design from the beginning," Rea said. "We were all able to have input. It was wonderful."

Martha Stadler, acute care manager, noted one of the most dramatic changes in the special-care section compared to the old hospital. The new area features four private rooms, whereas the current facility has just two beds separated by a curtain.

"This is going to be a huge improvement," she said. "It's just a lot nicer environment for the patient."

The new hospital offers cuisine-on-call as well as nourishment centers, in which families may prepare their own meals in the patient room area. Herrmann said Amy Foote, formerly a chef at Red, Wines and Blues, provides innovative and creative menus.

A public cafe operates from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily.

"We hope you'll come and have lunch with us," Herrmann said. "We have an excellent chef and great prices."

At the close of the tour, Maura Fields, administrator of clinical operations, said the new facility represents the culmination of many years of work to take the Planetree philosophy of care forward.

Fields said the design works to further lift the barriers between medical staff, patients and families. Planetree promotes active participation by patient and family in the healing process.

"The whole idea is we're here and privileged to serve you," she said.

Reporter Candace Chase may be reached at 758-4436 or by e-mail at

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