Local News

Hospital renovations don’t preclude new facility

Like many hospitals in Southeast Alaska, Wrangell Medical Center is starting to look its age.

A brand new hospital is still the long-term plan, but for now, the building is getting a much-needed makeover.

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Institutional. That’s the word that best describes the old look of Wrangell Medical Center.

The walls are a generically dreary tan. The banisters are scratched. The floors show the wear and tear of a thousand muddy shoes scuffing up the walkway.

It looks…like a hospital.

“It’s utilitarian,” says hospital CEO Marla Sanger.

We’re in the basement of the medical center, walking down a hallway to a positively tiny room. It’s barely big enough to squeeze in some chairs and a desk and maybe a yoga mat.

“But this area in here was the space where most of the physical therapy activity occurred. It has one window that looks out at a wall where a little bit of indirect light gets in. But other than that it’s very much just the harsh lighting, it’s got a grey carpet. There still was very excellent care provided here but it is not an atmosphere that says welcome, come in, you’ve come to the right place,” says Sanger.

The hospital has struggled with its public image for the past couple of years. But it’s making some major changes in how it relates to its patients and the community.

That’s why Sanger says the time was right to freshen up the facility, too.

“It’s very treatment-like. I mean it feels, like you say, you feel like you’ve come here to have a treatment performed. Where, in the new physical therapy gym space, it feels to me much more like a health and wellness place- where people are coming in to achieve their optimal mobility and wellness,” says Sanger.

The new physical therapy space is upstairs. It’s a large room lined with mirrors. It’s filled with brightly colored therapy balls and lots of equipment and exercise machines.

The two rooms are like night and day.

And this change happened in less than a month. Earlier this year, the entire physical therapy program was overhauled. The department was given three weeks to strip it down to the basics, re-evaluate, and modernize.

“And their task was to redesign this space, to design new processes for physical therapy, design all their documentation tools, design the way patients would get registered, the scheduling, everything. They identified pieces of equipment that we didn’t have that they ordered and then, from the time that they arrived to three weeks later, we went from what you saw downstairs to this new space,” says Sanger.

The problem with re-doing one part of the hospital is that it underscores just how much the rest of the building needs a makeover too.

“And I would kind of liken it to when you fix up a room of your house and then the rest of your house suddenly doesn’t look so good. That feels kind of like what happened when we improved the physical therapy space and built the beautiful new gym. And then all of a sudden, we’re looking at everything a bit askance. And that’s why we’re doing this. It just needs to look better,” says Sanger.

Sanger says she was strict with budgeting the renovations and shopped around carefully to get the most bang for the hospital’s bucks.

The walls are getting a fresh coat of paint. Instead of the old peachy tan, they’re sunny yellow on top with rich green on the bottom. The old, worn banisters are getting re-finished. And new carpets line the hallways.

And, to further break from the old institutional feel, she involved hospital staff in parts of the decision-making process.

Kris Reed is a development assistant for the hospital. She’s also an artist with a flair for color. So, she helped choose the paint.

“I did a little bit of research online and found that greens and blues were colors that were recommended for places where people were being treated for a variety of different things. Just in looking at the colors available to us, it seemed like a good decision,” says Reed.

She chose some color options and posted samples around the building for staff to vote on. Once the feedback was in, the colors went up.

“Oh it makes a huge difference in how people feel in the space and to some degree, depending on the space, how productive you can be,” says Reed.

Reed says it makes it a more pleasant place for both patients and staff. It’s inviting. But that doesn’t mean the hospital stops here.

CEO Marla Sanger says that these renovations don’t replace plans for a brand new facility.

“Just because we’re doing these improvements right now doesn’t mean in any way that we’re not still very interested and very much wanting a new hospital. And we are going to be continuing to try for that. It might be a bit difficult but we are going to just try one step at a time to get back on track, get it going again,” says Sanger.

But in the meantime she says, the hospital can continue to care for the community in a freshened up space with a brand new outlook.

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