Architect’s rendering shows Essentia Health’s current replacement hospital plans.

Image courtesy of Essentia Health

The foundations have been set for Essentia Health’s 14-story hospital bed tower, expanded clinic space and surgical suites, and 64 intensive care unit (ICU) beds being built in Duluth, Minn., and slated to be complete in late 2022. However, as the U.S. health care system has been challenged to rethink its emergency planning — including how it designs its facilities — in the face of the pandemic, Essentia Health is also working to possibly revise its construction plans to meet current and possible future needs for more ICU capacity.

The health system with locations in Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota launched its Vision Northland building project in 2018, and it broke ground on the $800 million project to consolidate its Duluth campus in September 2019. 

“Because construction is underway, there is a unique opportunity and compelling reasons to modify this new facility to add an additional 224 ICU beds, bringing the total number to 288 code-compliant ICU beds, which does not include the 36 ICU beds designed for neonatal and pediatric patients,” an Essentia spokesperson says. “Because each of Vision Northland’s beds are currently designed to be easily converted to ICU beds, these additional ICU beds could be installed in a timely and cost-effective manner.”

Essentia has presented this plan to members of Congress in an effort to receive federal funding not only for its own proposed changes, but also to create a strategic framework for handling pandemics across the U.S. Its proposal, the National ICU Pandemic Readiness Fund, seeks to equip 2,500 code-compliant ICU beds across the country, strategically placed throughout the 10 regions outlined by the Department of Health & Human Services.

Essentia is also working to recruit leading health systems in each of these 10 regions to push for $1 billion to be included in the next COVID-19 relief package or another future stimulus bill specifically marked for this vision. 

Although its construction project is already underway, the health care system is trying to act fast and says there is still time to make key planning changes that could help impact its region’s emergency readiness.