Essentia's new hospital 98% complete, on track to open this summer
The remaining work on the largest private investment in Duluth's history includes completion of construction details, installation of equipment and furniture, and staff training.
DULUTH — Essentia patients can expect to receive care in its new hospital this summer. According to Essentia Health and McGough Construction representatives, the Vision Northland project is now about 98% complete.
The hospital, which will be the new St. Mary's Medical Center, is the largest private investment in Duluth's history at $900 million. It's on track to serve its first patients during Essentia's third quarter, sometime between July and September.
"To bring this project in on time and on budget is a great feat, especially through a pandemic," said Dan Cebelinski, Essentia’s director of facilities. "We've reached substantial completion on the project, which doesn't mean the contractors are 100% done yet, but we're very close. We're getting everything wrapped up."
Crews are working to complete the "punch list" items for construction, like minor cosmetic touch-ups and infrastructure details. Then medical equipment and supplies, furniture and decor will be installed.
Dr. Robert Erickson, physician lead for Vision Northland, said about two-thirds of the artwork the hospital has incorporated comes from local artists in the health care system's service area, with special attention to incorporating Indigenous art and photography.
During a news conference on the hospital's main entrance floor off East Second Street, members of the media were shown the registration and atrium lobby, the chapel, a coffee shop and the dining hall with a view of the Aerial Lift Bridge and downtown Duluth.
Essentia Health and the sisters at the St. Scholastica Monastery in Duluth are working together to determine the timeline for the demolition of the old St. Mary's Medical Center. The sisters commissioned and donated a stained-glass window for the chapel in the new hospital. The pews were taken and reused from the previous chapel.
Jeff Dzurik, McGough Construction executive vice president of project management, said much of the construction work left is exterior finishing, including installing canopies and glass railings to balconies. Sections of tile, which were imported from Spain, can't be installed until the temperature reaches 40 degrees or warmer.
The 17th and 18th floors, which were designated as intensive care unit-adaptable floors amid the hospital bed shortage at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, are the final floors to be finished. The floors were redesigned mid-project to have increased air exchanges and larger ducts for infection control.
"Hospitals were calling all over the place trying to find beds, so they will have the ability, in an emergency situation, to have up to six floors of hospital beds," Dzurik said.
Erickson said Essentia staff will have time to train in on the new floors before they transition patients.
"We have the luxury of the four months to be able to get used to working on the floor, other simulations like when a helicopter lands on the top floor and the patient goes down to the (emergency department)," Erickson said. "We'll be simulating patients coming through the ED, so we have a lot of work over the next four months, but this is really kind of the exciting part."
Erickson said the proximity and skywalk connection to the "legacy" St. Mary's Medical Center will make moving patients much easier. The move will be a two-week process of moving usable equipment from the old St. Mary's to the new. Patients and providers will transfer to the new building together in phases over that two-week period.
As construction nears its end, Dzurik said some road barriers around the project will be removed at the end of March. Fourth Avenue East is expected to reopen, and the lanes on East Superior and Second streets will reopen. He said drivers should still expect heavier truck traffic in the area as the hospital receives equipment deliveries. East First Street will remain closed until the end of June because of the truck traffic and unloading.
Dzurik noted the site has an outstanding safety record, with more than 2.8 million work hours logged and no major injuries or accidents.
"I don't know that words can express how proud I am of all the hard work that's been done," Dzurik said. "Hospitals are amongst the hardest types of buildings to build. You look around these spaces and what you're seeing is the finishes on the walls. Most of the complexity you never see as the public. Most of that's happening in mechanical rooms and all the hundreds of systems that go into these buildings to make them safe for patients, for families, for staff."
McGough Construction will now transfer control of the building to Essentia Health, but will remain on-site until 100% completion.
The building will undergo several inspections in the coming months, including from architects, the Minnesota Department of Health and the city of Duluth, which will grant Essentia its certificate of occupancy verifying all life-safety measures are in place and mechanical systems are operational. Once that is complete, equipment, supplies and furniture can be installed.