By Robb Murray
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — The Mankato Clinic has announced some big plans for its littlest patients.
In late May or early June the clinic will break ground on a new $9 million facility on its Wickersham Health Campus that will focus on pediatric care. The 56,000-square-feet facility will be called Mankato Clinic’s Children’s Health Center.
The building also will house offices for Gillette’s Children’s Specialty Healthcare and Pediatric Therapy Services, a partnership the clinic says will offer services that have never been available locally.
Mankato Clinic CFO Steve Hatkin said that 2 1/2 years ago, the clinic embarked on a master facility planning project. One thing they identified, he said, was that the Main Street location was bursting at the seams and something needed to be done to alleviate the pressure.
He said they’d considered expanding at that site but realized a better option was expansion at the Wickersham Campus — acquired in the early 2000s — which has much more room to work with.
They also decided the biggest bang for their buck would come from moving pediatrics, an area the clinic says it has consistently been a regional leader in terms of patient numbers. They then began the planning for transitioning pediatric care to the new facility.
When it is complete, all pediatricians and some mental health professionals will be housed in the new facility.
Don Putzier, a 26-year pediatrician, said one of the key elements of the new facility is the partnership with Gillette’s, which he spearheaded.
“Several of us providers have thought it would be useful for our special needs patients to have better access to those services in Mankato,” Putzier said. He said having Gillette’s on site will give kids access to wheelchairs, orthotics and different kinds of leg braces they’d otherwise have to go to the Twin Cities for.
The Gillette’s site at the new pediatric center will serve as Gillette’s southern Minnesota access point.
“For some of these families, it’s hard to go to the Twin Cities,” Putzier said.
Gillette’s, for several years, has been offering a mobile service that had a stop in St. Peter. But Putzier said this on-site service will be much more convenient for Mankato families. Gillette’s offers a similar site at a clinic in Duluth.
The clinic took the opportunity to make sure the stature of its most important patients was taken into account. Restrooms will have kid-size toilets. There will be plenty of activity areas, even a courtyard to give kids a chance to get outside during the warmer months. And for those kids who are a little bit older and prone to migraines, there will be dim rooms.
“We have been really diligent in focusing in on every little detail to make sure patients get the best experience they can when they come here,” pediatrician Katie Smentek said.
The new building also will have a somewhat unique design concept. Unlike traditional clinic settings where patients must walk past nurse’s stations and other behind-the-scenes environments, the new facility will have one hallway for patients and a separate hallway for doctors, nurses and staff. This will avoid patients walking past nurses preparing needles for shots, medical staff engaged in phone conversations, etc.
In addition to Gillette’s, another service provider also will share space in the new facility.
Pediatric Therapy Services, which has operated for 20 years in southern Minnesota, will continue to work closely with Mankato Clinic physicians but will now offer a convenient location for patients who need their services.
Just as with the Gillette’s service, patients need not be affiliated with the Mankato Clinic to use the service.
“Our goal is to be the premier pediatrics center in the region by enhancing access to pediatric care in south-central Minnesota in a kid-friendly environment,” said Randy Farrow, CEO of the Mankato Clinic, in a statement. “Our collaboration with Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare and Pediatric Therapy Services is just a sign of things to come. We plan to add additional services at this new facility as well.”
The new facility will be connected to the existing campus.
“One of the things that impresses me is that, in 26 years, I’ve never seen such tremendous support for pediatric services from an organization as I’ve seen with this,” Putzier said. “Usually pediatrics is an afterthought. In health care, a lot of people think of treating adults with chronic conditions, and there’s not a lot of emphasis on children. We forget children might need little toilets, or that they might play with the drawers in the exam room. It’s refreshing we’ve had such support for this, and I’ve never seen that before.”
When pediatrics leaves the Main Street space, the clinic will expand its ultrasound capacity, among other things.