MANKATO — A $65 million expansion and upgrade to the Mankato hospital surgical suite was officially kicked off Wednesday, part of an ongoing effort to create a major regional health campus with a growing list of services.

"This is one of several changes coming to truly transform the Mankato campus into a major Mayo Clinic regional medical center," said Dr. James Hebl, Mayo Clinic Health System regional vice president.

Several dozen hospital staff, Mayo officials and local leaders met on the second floor of the Emergency Department where a new addition is being outfitted with 14 ultramodern operating rooms, a new sterile processing department, 43 private pre- and post-operative patient rooms, an interventional pain medicine procedural room and a new gastrointestinal endoscopy center.

The surgical rooms are very large, allowing for room for the growing array of equipment and staff involved in surgeries now and in the future. The rooms will be the same as those recently developed and built by Mayo at their Rochester campus.

The completion of the surgical suites and GI endoscopy center is expected by late 2018. But there will be another year's worth of renovation of existing space to complete the whole project.

The latest project comes on the heels of a $5 million expansion and renovation of the orthopedic and sports clinic on the first floor. Hebl said they have just hired their eighth orthopedic surgeon.

That project more than doubled the orthopedic footprint, which now houses 20 patient exam rooms, a minor procedure room, specialized cast room, on-site radiology services, and lobby and patient waiting areas.

Hebl said that next year they will start a campaign for more improvements and expansion to the campus. He said the effort will focus on continuing to improve quality and safety for patients, improving patient experiences, expanding clinical services and modernizing facilities.

That effort, he said, already has been producing results. Hebl said that while the hospital had high quality before, they knew there was room for improvement and brought in consultants and used massive amounts of data to pinpoint areas where they could do better. Those efforts are already paying off, he said, noting the Mankato hospital was recently ranked the 12th best in the state, putting it in the top 8 percent. He said their ties to Mayo in Rochester, which is ranked No. 1 in the nation, will continue to add to Mankato's offerings and quality.

In January they will kick off a project to create a comprehensive breast care system, allowing a one-stop service for all breast care.

There will also be two new neurosurgeons arriving next summer.

Jonathan Zierdt, president and CEO of Greater Mankato Growth, spoke at Wednesday's event, saying Mayo's presence and investment in Mankato is boosting the city as a regional hub. He said the economic impact goes far beyond the initial $65 million spent as it will create more employment and support businesses.

He said Mankato is the second-fastest growing metropolitan statistical area in the Midwest and that Mayo's investments only enhance the reputation of the city.

Follow Tim Krohn on Twitter @TimKrohn

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