The new, 28,216-square-foot Digestive Health Institute at 320 Sunnyview Lane, which opened Oct. 1, has all the trappings of a brand-new space. Every room smells of freshly delivered furniture. There’s landscaping work to be done outside, and the last touches on some second-floor tile need to be made.
But the predominant feature of the state-of-the-art, $12.9 million facility, designed to match Kalispell Regional Healthcare’s investment in specialized gastrointestinal and endoscopic care, is the wall of windows. Natural light streams into the first-floor lobby, the second-floor endoscopic wing, and many of the clinical offices, offering patients a view of the Flathead’s defining mountains or, sometimes, a peek into Glacier National Park.
The views provide a welcome balm for patients, often here for not the most comfortable of procedures — colonoscopies — or loved ones who wait it out in the new second-floor bistro area.
The design — open space, natural light and a minimalist style — reflect the institute’s patient-centric focus, said Lynn Andenoro, the service line manager and a key figure in the building’s design.
The design plans prioritized “just really a better experience for people. [We were] trying to create a nice environment, something that’s going to be comforting, but we also wanted it to look modern and up-to-date, because what we’re doing here is the latest and greatest stuff. We want to give people confidence that the care that they’re getting here is top-rate,” she said.
The facility’s opening culminates a three-year process of planning, designing and building the new facility, which was a major priority of former Kalispell Regional Chief Executive Officer Velinda Stevens, who died in January 2017. The institute began hiring more physicians and specialists a few years ago to fill a critical lack of gastroenterologists in Montana, which had led to wait times for procedures of about three to four months. At the time construction workers broke ground on the new facility in August 2017, Montana ranked 49th in the state for colon cancer screening and second highest in the nation for pregnant women with Hepatitis C.
The Digestive Health Institute, according to Andenoro and Clinical Director Dr. Philip Jaffe, is working to fill gaps in care with subspecialty focuses, such as diagnostic procedures and liver diseases; outreach and consultations with physicians across the state; and educational opportunities for medical students and nurses in training at the institute.
The new building now houses about 46 staff and anticipates performing 30 to 35 outpatient procedures a day, according to Andenoro.
The institute formerly was headquartered at the Montana Center for Wellness and Pain Management, but regulations on anesthesia and space constraints scattered staff into different facilities.
“We were spread out into three different office spaces around campus,” Andenoro said. “The majority of what we’re doing is now here in this one building. And it helps us collaborate with our staff much more readily.”
Moreover, they weren’t able to deliver monitored anesthesia — the kind warranted by colonoscopies or other specialized endoscopic procedures — at the former center. “Before, the only option for patients who needed to have anesthesia was to go to the hospital,” Andenoro pointed out. With the new facility and anesthesiologists on staff, she added, “we’re able to do it here, and in a specialized environment.”
She said about 55 percent of their procedures involve anesthesia.
Over the course of the design phase, “our physicians, myself, some of our staff, in particular our staff leaders, and our architect all worked very closely together,” Andenoro said. “We applied a lot of lean management principles to facility design. We wanted the building to function very efficiently, so that we didn’t have a lot of extra wasted space in it, and allow room for growth.”
Designers divided the new institute into two wings: the first-floor clinical area, for tests, consults, offices, exam rooms and headquarters for the institute; and the second-floor endoscopy suite, where procedures such as routine colonoscopies or more specialized marquee services such as endoscopic ultrasound are performed.
On the clinical level, offices and exam rooms are laid out according to a “pod” design, which designates an area to a specific physician, thus streamlining traffic and keeping communication lines efficient. The rooms themselves are outfitted with practical elements — sleek cabinets and counters designed to minimize mess — and comfortable touches such as reclining chairs.
Upstairs, the endoscopic suite quadrupled on the former department space, Andenoro noted. Design focused primarily on maintaining patient privacy — there’s a separate elevator exit so those finished with their procedure can leave without retreading through the waiting area — and maximizing space.
There are three procedure rooms, two with anesthesia equipment in them, the other for nurse-administered sedation. Across the hall, there’s a Post-Anesthesia Care Unit for specialized recovery, as well as six standard recovery bays.
Overall, from a design perspective, “it was really about creating a modular design — maximum flexibility, minimalist appearance,” Jaffe said. “It was really patient-centric,” he said of the design. “You want to be in a place where you feel like there are people around who care. That’s what we were going for.
“From the patient’s perspective, we want it to be a comfortable, warm feeling, a place where you would want to come back if you had to. And from our perspective, we want it to be effective, efficient and high-quality, a place where we can be sure that people can get tremendous care.”
Reporter Adrian Horton may be reached at 758-4439 or email@example.com.