By Joseph T. O’Connor Explore Big Sky Senior Editor

BIG SKY – Leaders from Bozeman Deaconess Health Services visited Big Sky’s Warren Miller Performing Arts Center on March 31 to present an update on the nonprofit medical center it plans to open in Town Center in fall 2015.

BDHS President and CEO Kevin Pitzer addressed a group of approximately 30 Big Sky community members, and the presentation included renderings of the property, design plans and a map of its location in Town Center.

The 7.5-acre building site is on the south side of Lone Mountain Trail, just east of the Roxy’s Market. Six acres will be used for the medical center, and the plans call for the remaining 1.5 acres to be used for residential housing. Pitzer said this apartment and studio-style housing will mainly accommodate hospital personnel, though some could be available for community members depending on interest.

Designed by Hammel, Green and Abrahamson, a Minneapolis, Minn. architectural and engineering firm, the medical facility is slated to be 42,868 square feet, and will include imaging and physical therapy services, a laboratory, pharmacy, emergency department, and a helipad on the northeast corner of the property. It will hold four inpatient beds initially, with the capacity to add four more beds based on demand, Pitzer said.

Future expansion into the existing lot could allow for still more beds and BDHS is poised to add these, but its studies of the Big Sky area for the next 5-10 years indicate this may not be necessary. “We want to build with flexibility based on demand,” he said. “Eight beds will probably suffice.”

The new facility will employ between 30 and 35 workers to start, and the emergency department will be staffed by a licensed physician 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, something that its licensing status dictates, Pitzer said.

The medical center will be licensed as an Acute Care Hospital, which differs from a Critical Access Hospital in a number of ways. CAH facilities are limited to 25 inpatient beds, while ACH licensing doesn’t place a cap on bed counts.

Additionally, a CAH also doesn’t require a licensed physician to be on site 24 hours a day, and, because of the remote locations where these facilities are often built, CAHs tend to treat more Medicare and Medicaid patients, according to Cheryl Ridgely, Chief Strategy and Business Development Officer for BDHS.

“That’s just the nature of rural demographics,” Ridgely said. “Big Sky is unique in that it’s also a resort market. Most areas that have CAHs are not resort communities.”

BDHS will evaluate its options to apply for CAH certification and make that decision based on whether the benefits are worth it down the road, Pitzer said.

Funding for the medical center will come partly from BDHS cash reserves and partly from bond financing that will be secured by BDHS, Ridgely said. Big Sky will not have to pay any initial expenditures for the medical center, though BDHS will accept donations, she added.

“While philanthropy is always welcome and is traditionally part of a nonprofit healthcare organization, it’s not a requirement for a certain philanthropic target to be hit before we proceed.”

Bozeman-based general contracting firm Langlas and Associates will begin construction in June.