Shirley Hudgins’ office is a closet.
The radiology ward clerk sits at a makeshift desk built into a closet near Benewah Community Hospital’s waiting room.
“They took off the door and built some shelves,” she said. “Sometimes, it gets a little crowded.”
Hudgins isn’t alone. The county-owned hospital is licensed for 33 beds but has only 23 available. Former patient rooms are occupied by the hospital’s pharmacy, lab and respiratory therapy department.
Elsewhere in the building, billing clerks work out of a former conference room. The computer room and another lab are squeezed into converted bathrooms. There have been “no substantial changes” to the building, says administrator Mike Boyd, since it was constructed in 1957.
“They would never let you build a hospital the way this one is now,” he said.
But things are about to change. This summer, Benewah Community Hospital will break ground for a $3 million addition which will connect the hospital with its St. Maries Family Practice clinic across Eighth Street.
“There has been a building project discussed for this hospital for 15 years, and it’s never been possible,” Boyd said. “Now, we’re doing it.”
The reason: several years of unprecedented growth at the small hospital.
In 1992, for example, the hospital had three full-time doctors and averaged two hospitalized patients a day.
“Both the clinic and the hospital were losing money,” Boyd said.
Today, there are seven full-time and four part-time doctors. The hospital, Boyd said, averages 8.5 patients per day. It has added CT scans, ultrasound, more complex surgery and heart and nerve testing.
Two years ago, the hospital turned a profit of $552,000. Last year, the figure was $645,000. Profits are reinvested into equipment and other patient-care needs.
“Basically, the people are shopping at home for health care,” Boyd said. “Our total restriction at this point is physical. We’ve got an excellent group of physicians.”
The hospital covers 19,000 square feet; the clinic, 10,000. The addition, which will take about 18 months to finish, will add 17,500 square feet.
The new space will include a new main entry and much larger facilities for radiology, physical therapy, lab work and respiratory care. The entrance to the emergency room no longer will be a backdoor with a peephole.
The changes, Boyd said, will open up two to four more beds and vastly improve patient services. For example, clinic patients needing X-rays no longer will have to be wheeled across Eighth Street to the hospital’s radiology lab.
“We will move from an undersized rural health facility to a model rural health facility,” Boyd said.
In a move unusual for a rural facility, the hospital is using revenue bonds to pay for the expansion.
The 20-year bonds will be paid off through future hospital revenue.
The only tax money involved, Boyd says, is $300,000 that Benewah County set aside two years ago.
One of the most obvious places affected by the expansion will be the hospital’s lab, where four lab technicians and a half-dozen machines typically share a 12-by-14-foot room.
“We have people literally bumping into people,” said lab manager John Bartenhagen.
“We get along well,” he said. “It’s a good thing.”