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PROGRESS: Siouxland Community Health Center renovations create room for more services

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SIOUX CITY -- The novel coronavirus pandemic alone has caused numerous disruptions for health care facilities and providers for the past 12 months.

For much of that same time, staff and patients at the Siouxland Community Health Center also have had to navigate through a renovation project that has affected nearly every department, adding to the upheaval caused by COVID-19.

It's been a challenging year, to say the least, but patients and staff are beginning to see the benefits of a $6 million construction project that has created efficiencies and space for medical professionals to see and treat more people.

"We really optimized the use of space," said Dr. Michael Piplani, chief medical officer. "We're hoping there will be more ease of access, getting in easier and getting out easier. We hope it will lead to more patients."

The center's staff and governing board started talking about the renovations in 2015, knowing that change was going to be necessary to keep up with a growing patient load.

"We just have exponential growth here," CEO Mari Kaptain-Dahlen said.

Piplani said the center saw 24,000 patients in 2014, the year he arrived. That increased to 31,150 patients in 2019 and grew to 35,438 patients making 121,577 visits in 2020.

Something had to be done to add room for the increased demand for services.

Rather than expand, they chose to renovate and make better use of existing space. Kaptain-Dahlen said parking at the center, built in 2008 at 1021 Nebraska St., is already at a premium, and they didn't want to lose parking spots to a building addition.

When looking at how the current space was utilized, they knew there were more efficient ways to organize the departments within the facility that could lead to more clinical space. Every department was examined, and nearly all of the 300 staff members were affected. Funding came from the center's cash reserves.

"Construction has been done in every part of our building except the administration area," Kaptain-Dahlen said.

One of the goals was to make high-traffic areas more accessible to the public. That put the spotlight on the pharmacy and urgent care clinic, both of which had been located on the upper level. They now will be on the ground level, easier to get to.

"It's just easier to access us. That was job one with this," Piplani said.

Through the process of department relocations, space was created for eight new medical exam rooms, two new exam rooms in the dental area that enabled the center to hire two new dentists, an enlarged area for the prenatal program and a larger space for behavioral health services, which saw its staff grow from two social workers to include three advanced practice psychiatric nurse practitioners and three licensed individual social workers.

A large education room also will be created, providing space for prenatal classes and other meetings.

The work has made navigating the building challenging at times, but contractors have done portions of the work after regular clinic hours when it's less disruptive to staff and patients. The staff has been up to the challenge of working through construction and a pandemic, Kaptain-Dahlen said.

"They've just always focused on the patients and cared for them the best they could," she said.

The construction, coupled with COVID-19, forced the staff to provide services in new or different ways. Many of those changes have been for the better and will continue when both the pandemic and construction are in the past.

Because of the need to reduce the number of people entering and waiting inside the building to ensure social distancing, clinics added electronic patient registration. The pharmacy began offering curbside pickup and a delivery service. The center bought a mobile clinic unit to use for COVID testing. It will used to provide mobile vaccination clinics in the future.

Kaptain-Dahlen said construction should be done in October. It won't be long after that before discussions begin on another round of expansion and change to keep up with the growing patient load at an institution that was created in 1991 and opened in 1992 with one provider and 12 staff members.

"We're just planning that by the time we get done with this, where do we expand next?" she said.

All options will be on the table, she said. The center's South Sioux City clinic, opened in 2015 and already expanded three times, is likely to grow again.

As the patient load grows, the health center hopes to continue to grow with it to ensure it's serving the community, Kaptain-Dahlen said.

"Our mission is to be here for all people in our community regardless of their pay source and their race and ethnicity," she said.

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