Northern Wisconsin Hospital Secures Funding For $39M Facility

Cumberland Memorial Hospital Will Replace Existing Facility

hospital nurse hooks an IV to a flu patient
David Goldman/AP Photo

A hospital in rural northern Wisconsin has received nearly $40 million in U.S. Department of Agriculture loans to build a new facility. The loans were among $501 million awarded through the agency’s community facilities loan program to 60 projects that will improve rural health care nationwide.

USDA Rural Development awarded a roughly $35 million loan along with a $5 million loan guarantee to Cumberland Memorial Hospital. The existing hospital employs around 250 people and has been serving the area since 1956.

“From a patient flow standpoint, it doesn’t flow the best,” said Mike Gutsch, chief executive officer of Cumberland Healthcare. “For example, we have surgery in the basement and our ER is way undersize.”

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Gutsch said the new hospital will improve patient flow, surgical and clinic services and cost just under $39 million after refinancing. Cumberland Healthcare will contribute around $1.7 million toward the project, according to Frank Frassetto, state director for USDA Rural Development in Wisconsin.

“This expansion is going to be able to help the Washburn, the Polk and the Barron County communities by providing crucial local health care options for patients that would otherwise have to travel 100 miles for needed care,” said Frassetto.

Cumberland Healthcare’s 25-bed facility will be replaced with a 96,000 square-foot facility that is expected to increase outpatient services.

“That’s going to be essentially creating additional opportunities for people to have health care in these particular areas,” said Frassetto. “Obviously, for rural communities, where the capacity is sometimes not necessarily there, this is going to mean a much broader area is going to be able to have accessibility to affordable health care.”

Cumberland Memorial Hospital is one of the state’s 58 critical access hospitals, which receive higher levels of reimbursement to fund the cost of care due to lower patient volumes. Facilities that are designated as critical access hospitals provide 24/7 emergency care in rural areas that are typically more than 35 miles from another hospital, according to Kathryn Miller, rural hospitals and clinics program manager for the Wisconsin Office of Rural Health. She said the model of health care is transitioning to more outpatient care.

“Hospitals aren’t seeing as many inpatient folks coming in and having long-term stays,” she said. “There’s a lot more outpatient, so outpatient surgeries, outpatient clinics, that type of care,” she said. “That’s the same pattern in urban and rural as well.”

The number of outpatient visits at Cumberland Healthcare grew from 11,168 in 2016 to 12,844 last year.

The new hospital is expected to provide improved spaces for a myriad of services, including family practice, medical and obstetric care. Cumberland Mayor Bert Skinner said the facility will be an advantage to the city and surrounding area.

“They’ve done a tremendous job with updating their facilities, but I think it’s come to the point where they’re beyond that now and they need to look at a complete new facility, which would also bring more of those specialists to our community,” he said. “They could probably, in the new surgical ward, do some of those things that they would have to travel to Eau Claire or the Twin Cities area to do.”

The project is expected to serve the city’s 2,170 residents and around 88,000 people in the surrounding area. Gutsch said they’re also exploring partnerships with other entities to provide long-term care on the campus that will be located on State Highway 48, northwest of the city. He said they plan to break ground next summer and hope to have the hospital fully operational in 2020.