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Essentia Surgery Center to open in mall next month

The outpatient surgery center for same-day-release procedures opens Sept. 12 and will have four operating rooms.

A nurse gestures to the operating table
Operating room registered nurse Laurel Stauffer gestures to the operating table and its technology during a tour of the Essentia Health Surgery Center - Miller Hill on Aug. 25, 2022.
Laura Butterbrodt / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — The Essentia Health Surgery Center - Miller Hill will open Sept. 12, with four operating rooms in the 41,000-square-foot facility. The surgery center, which is located partially in the former Sears at the Miller Hill Mall, will be able to perform ear, nose and throat; general surgery, gynecology, ophthalmology, orthopedics and urology procedures that require less than 24 hours of recovery before discharge.

Essentia Health Surgery Center - Miller Hill exterior
The Essentia Health Surgery Center - Miller Hill on Aug. 25, 2022.
Laura Butterbrodt / Duluth News Tribune

Essentia held an open house and ribbon cutting for the public to tour the facility on Thursday evening. In addition to the surgery center, Essentia is also opening a pharmacy next door in the mall, which will also open Sept. 12. The pharmacy can be used by anyone, not just people receiving surgery, and will be open 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. weekdays. A drive-thru will also be added in early 2023.

Essentia Health Pharmacy
The new Essentia Health pharmacy in the Miller Hill Mall.
Laura Butterbrodt / Duluth News Tribune

Orthopedic surgeon Jefferson Davis, who is the medical director of the surgery center, said the list of offered surgeries will expand to include neurosurgery and total joint replacements when more operating rooms are opened in the center. The facility has the capacity for up to 12 operating rooms.

"It's four ORs with the ability to expand to eight fairly quickly, and 12 will take a little longer, but that's sort of our long-term plan," Davis said. "With the explosion of outpatient surgeries, we're sort of positioned to move a lot of the surgeries that we do in inpatient into the outpatient world, and we're poised to do that if we need to and when we need to."

Davis said the advancement of surgeries has changed the time required for both preparation and recovery, which puts outpatient surgery capacities in much higher demand.

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"Everything's going (to outpatient), so we're trying to get the boost off of that and be ready for that, and be a leader in the area and really the state," Davis said. "We're just excited to be at the forefront of change and innovation and start moving to where the world is going."

The 600-square-foot operating rooms are equipped with Steris medical equipment, including video systems that can broadcast a feed and photos of the surgery site to several screens around the OR and into patient medical records.

People stand near an operating table
Brian Chier and Neil Britt, representatives for Steris medical devices, explain the operating room technology during a tour of the Essentia Health Surgery Center - Miller Hill on Aug. 25 while nurse Laurel Stauffer (far left) looks on.
Laura Butterbrodt / Duluth News Tribune

The facility also has 20 private rooms for patients to use before their operations, and four 23-hour rooms for patients who need to stay a while longer after their surgery. A separate patient discharge door allows for patients to leave after surgery without having to go back through the facility and lobby.

A pediatric hospital bed
A pediatric surgery preparation room at Essentia Health Surgery Center - Miller Hill.
Laura Butterbrodt / Duluth News Tribune

About 20 employees have been hired for the Miller Hill Surgery Center, with plans to add more as services expand.

A group of Minnesota Nurses Association members and families were protesting the open house at the corner of Highway 53 and Mall Drive, stating their unhappiness with Essentia for not using union nurses at the facility.

Courtney Lucht, who is a nurse employed by Essentia, said it's frustrating to see Essentia boast about using union labor to build the surgery center and other new clinics in the region, but not invest in union labor when it comes to the people who will run the clinics when they open.

"Essentia is opening their new non-union surgery center, and we're here to point out the fact that it seems to be the most important thing that they care about," Lucht said. "We have how many of us nurses fighting for a contract right now?... And they like to throw these big, elaborate gatherings to show off how much money they like to spend and they don't do anything for their nurses."

MNA nurses in the Twin Ports voted earlier this month to authorize a strike due to concerns about staff shortages and patient care standards. A strike has not been announced yet. Nurses have been in contract negotiations with hospital leadership since March.

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In a statement earlier this year, Essentia said, "We are proud of our long-time working relationships with unions where our employees have voted for union representation. Under federal law, a decision regarding union representation would be something for employees to decide and we would respect that choice. We remain committed to full compliance with all applicable laws and regulations."

Laura Butterbrodt covers health for the Duluth News Tribune. She has a bachelor of arts in journalism from South Dakota State University and has been working as a reporter in Minnesota and South Dakota since 2014.
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