MUNISING - The simple act of snipping a ribbon belied the gravity of the moment on a July afternoon as a new era of medical care began at Munising Memorial Hospital.
The ribbon-cutting marked the ceremonial opening of the town's new 59,800 square-foot, $14.2 million critical care access hospital, which had been under construction since November 2006.
Doors opened at the new hospital on June 13. The old facility, standing on the adjacent property since 1961, was razed for parking space about three weeks after the ribbon-cutting.
"This is one of the proudest days of my life," said hospital Chief Executive Officer Carl Velte.
Velte, who after 20 years in Munising retired Sept. 29, read a prepared statement pausing between some phrases, choked up with emotion. He said the ribbon-cutting event proved to be a difficult day for him. He praised local residents for supporting the project.
"If a community doesn't support a hospital, there's no point in building one," Velte said.
Velte said the hospital is fortunate to have top-quality physicians on staff who he said "could go anywhere in the world" but they choose to work in Munising.
The hospital's 112 employees worked to help move equipment and supplies from the old hospital to the new hospital in two days. Velte said this was done without missing patient care.
Citing numerous improvements in the local area, including the new hospital, Velte said "Munising will again start looking to the future and continue to grow."
Munising Memorial Hospital Board of Trustees Vice President Kirt Harmon praised Velte's spearheading of the new hospital project.
"Without your leadership skills and vision, we would not be here today," Harmon told Velte. "Alger County owes you a tremendous debt that we can never repay."
Tom Baldini, Upper Peninsula aide to U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Menominee, brought congratulations from the congressman.
"This is truly a commitment that you've made to your own community and in fact to the entire region," Baldini told the crowd on hand for the ceremony outside the new facility.
Munising Mayor Rod DesJardins said the hospital is one of several opportunities he's had recently in the city to stand and speak at a ceremony for a new community business or facility opening, a sign of progress.
"It is but another piece in the puzzle in the rebirth of this community," DesJardins said.
The new hospital is substantially larger than the old one.
"Everything almost tripled in space. We were so cramped in the old building," Velte said previously. "Patient comfort was really a big aspect to this whole project. We're pretty pleased with it."
In the new hospital, once a patient enters, they do not have to leave the premises for testing, X-rays or other procedures.
Emergency room bed space increased from two beds to six. Garages for ambulances were upgraded; there will be more room for holding specialty clinics; provisions for endoscopy procedures improved.
Some of the functions of the new hospital include serving the area as an emergency center with assessment and evaluation of patients and same-day surgeries.
The hospital reduced its number of beds from 40 to 11. Velte said previously the drop in bed space is in response to changing health care treatment patterns over the past few years with now only about 20 percent of patients kept as in-patients at the hospital.
That figure contrasts dramatically with circumstances roughly two decades ago when about 80 percent of the hospital's patients stayed in the hospital, with only 20 percent then treated as out-patients.
Clearly defining the facility's role as a critical access hospital has also helped shape plans for the future.
"We're a part of a health care system. Marquette General is the regional health center," Velte said previously. "Basically what we are is the entry point to health care."
On Sept. 20, Kevin Calhoun, who previously headed Bell Hospital in Ishpeming for eight years, returned to the Upper Peninsula to take over for Velte at Munising Memorial. Calhoun had been working most recently at a 150-bed hospital near Erie, Penn. He resigned from Bell Hospital in August 2002.