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New Specialty Hospital Will Fill a Care Gap Highlighted by COVID-19

Jun 22, 2021 07:00AM ● By Med Magazine

Black Hills area patients who are ready to transition out of the ICU but are not quite strong enough for rehabilitation will soon have a new option in Rapid City. Monument Health has announced that it will partner with national company Vibra Healthcare to build the area's first long-term acute care hospital (LTACH) and expanded rehabilitation facility. 

After the initial acute phase of their recovery, patients who have suffered from things like stroke, heart attack, brain and spinal cord injuries, and neurological diseases often move on to intensive (at least three hours a day) acute medical rehabilitation. 

But for people who are not healthy enough to tolerate that level of rehabilitation, such as patients who have been on a ventilator in the ICU for weeks, there has been no appropriate intermediate option locally. 

"As providers we have really struggled with this," says primary care physician Kelly Stacy, MD, Monument Health Executive Medical Director. "We haven't really had a great way to help patients get back on their feet." 

When the hospital is no longer the best place for them, many of these patients have had to travel to long-term acute care facilities in Billings, Bismarck, Lincoln, Sioux Falls, or Denver. 

"That just breaks your heart to see," says Dr. Stacy. "Having an LTACH here means that these patients can get the higher level of care they need and we don't have to send them away where there is no family support."

"This was a need before the pandemic but the pandemic definitely amplified it," says Mark Longacre, Vice President of Operations for Monument Health in Rapid City. "We serve patients in about a 300 mile radius and we hear a lot of stories about the stress on families when they have to travel. We realized that this was an important service that could be a huge benefit to our community."

In addition to 18 LTACH beds, the new facility will also expand Monument's rehabilitation capacity from 16 to 36 beds. The new facility will include perks like a therapy garden, more space for gym equipment, kitchen and laundry facilities, and more places for patients to safely practice everyday tasks like navigating stairs and uneven surfaces.

While Monument Health is experienced at offering rehabilitation services, their LTACH knowledge was limited. Longacre says partnering with Vibra Healthcare will not only shorten the learning curve, but may also make it easier to staff the new facility.  

"We are going to need more physicians and care staff and we don't have staff that is skilled on the LTACH side," says Longacre. "Vibra's national presence means they have a better reach in terms of attracting caregivers. There may be people who want to transfer from other places to work in the Black Hills. Having a national partner will help us find them."

Construction on the 55,000-square foot Rehabilitation and Critical Care Hospital of the Black Hills is expected to begin this fall with a goal of opening in 2023.