For more than 110 years, Unity Medical Center and its predecessors (Grafton Deaconess Hospital, St. Joseph’s Hospital, and Grafton Family Clinic) have worked to improve access to high-quality health care in rural North Dakota. Now, with a $20 million expansion and new furnishings from InterOffice, UMC is prepared to provide care well into the next century.

Nestled in northeast North Dakota, the community-owned and operated facility consists of two clinics, one in Park River and one in Grafton, as well as an acute care hospital in Grafton. The 14 bed Grafton hospital is a 45-minute drive from Grand Forks and two hours from Fargo; according to CEO Alan O’Neil, UMC’s goal is to minimize travel for patients, which may prevent many rural North Dakotans from seeking care.

“We are continuing to grow our service offerings with a goal of keeping the community from having to travel for everything, either to Grand Forks, Fargo, or beyond,” O’Neil said. “If we can feasibly provide here, we want to do that.”

In addition to four full-time doctors and nine advanced practice providers on staff, UMC brings in providers from outside facilities to provide specialized services such as orthopedics, oncology, obstetrics and gynecology, cardiology, general surgery and psychiatry.

Unfortunately, their existing hospital was not able to provide suitable space for expanding service offerings. After more than half a century, their patient and surgery rooms had grown cramped, their rehab services area—located down a long hallway and up an antiquated elevator—was difficult to access, and their dated decor did not reflect UMC’s commitment to innovation.

It was time for a change.

“Our existing hospital was built in 1956. We’ve taken good care of it and upgraded whenever possible, but we needed to do something different,” O’Neil said. “Knowing that the present building was 60-plus years old, we needed to do something significant. 60 years ago there was very little technology used in healthcare. Now nearly all processes are technology driven.”

“Significant” may be an understatement. In August 2019, UMC broke ground on a $20 million, nearly 40,000-square foot expansion and renovation to the Grafton hospital.

Completed in February 2021, the addition includes a new Surgical Department; a larger Rehab Services Department, including physical and occupational therapy, which has been moved to the first floor and just off the entrance for patient ease of access; a newly designed Emergency Department, which will have a drive-up and drop-off area to provide easy access to patients; and upgraded patient rooms, which are much larger, more private, and include many modern amenities.

“In essence, it’s a new hospital,” O’Neil said.

For O’Neil, perhaps the most exciting change is the addition of a Clinical Education and Training Center on the hospital’s third floor, which will be used for ongoing employee and community training. O’Neil described this center as “bonus space,” which was made possible through capitalizing on a design adjustment which had the space originally slated to be flat roof.

“Healthcare is such an ever-changing, high-tech industry,” O’Neil said. “You’re always learning, teaching, sharing, and we just did not have adequate space to do that.”

And all that new space calls for new furnishings. InterOffice worked with the UMC team to create an environment where patients and their guests feel warm and welcome, but also confident that they are entering a facility committed to providing high-quality care.

“UMC often has patients and family that stay for extended periods of time,” said Sarah Huckle, Workspace Expert at InterOffice. “We want to make these people feel really welcome and comfortable by creating spaces that feel almost homey, not the clinical environment that you may expect in a hospital.”

This home-like atmosphere can be seen in every corner of UMC’s Grafton hospital, from patient rooms to waiting areas. Each patient room includes a recliner and sleeper sofa from Weiland Healthcare. The sofa, which is equipped with outlets and USB ports, can be converted into three arrangements to accommodate patients and their visitors: a three-seat couch, two seats with a cafe table, or a comfortable bed for overnight guests.

These convertible sofas can also be seen in many of UMC’s waiting areas, along with additional seating from Nemschoff. Many of these spaces include seating with a slight rocking motion, to emulate the feeling of a cozy living room at home. Comfort can also be found in the warm, neutral tones and soft accent lighting chosen for these waiting areas.

Patients and guests weren’t the only people in mind when selecting furniture for UMC. All Nurse Stations feature ergonomic desk chairs from Herman Miller. 

“Nurses don’t have much time to sit, so when they do it’s important they are comfortable and supported. The Nurse Manager selected the best of the best for the UMC staff,” Huckle said.

In the Clinical Education and Training Center, UMC’s top priorities were efficiency and technology. Modular tables and chairs can be easily configured to suit a variety of needs: arranged into clusters for collaborative work, centered around one of five 85-inch monitors for teleconferencing, or conveniently stacked to free up space.

The focal point of the third floor is a high-top conference table by Herman Miller, hand-selected by O’Neil himself.

“I walked into the showroom, and when I saw it I immediately pointed and said, ‘I think we have a spot for that in our medical library,’” O’Neil said. “InterOffice shared our vision. They knew what we wanted without us telling them and they made specific recommendations of the items they thought would work for us. And they were right on.”

The finished product is space that patients, providers, and visitors alike can take pride in. When UMC welcomed their first patient into the new hospital this spring, she uttered a few words that O’Neil will never forget.

“She said, ‘Now that I’m here, I may never want to leave.’