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Edgerton Hospital plans new $26 million facility amid sea of other options

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Stacy Vogel
December 26, 2007
— Bob Borremans has a soft spot for Edgerton Hospital and Health Services, he said.

He brought his wife to the facility at 313 Stoughton Road 10 years ago when she needed serious medical attention. He was impressed with the personalized care his wife received, he said.


The experience motivated Borremans to join the hospital’s board of trustees and eventually serve as chairman.


But times have changed and so have health care options in southern Wisconsin. Although Borremans believes Edgerton Hospital provides value to the community, he no longer believes it makes sense, medically or financially, to build a new, $26 million facility on Highway 59.


Borremans’ opinion is at odds with hospital administration and some board members, and it caused him to resign his chairmanship and position on the board in June 2006, he said.


“In my opinion, Edgerton is the smallest fish in a very large pond,” he said. “As medicine has changed, I don’t see it as unreasonable that we begin to look at regional facilities.”


When it was built in 1923, Edgerton Hospital—then Memorial Community Hospital—was one of few options for Edgerton residents. But as the area has developed, transportation has become easier and health care options have expanded.


Seven hospitals now stand within 35 miles of Edgerton, and three are within 20 miles—Fort Memorial Hospital in Fort Atkinson, Mercy Hospital in Janesville and Stoughton Hospital.


But Edgerton is an important part of the local health care community because it provides choice and convenience to residents of northern Rock County, said Jim Pernau, hospital CEO.


“People have a right to local access to health care, particularly emergency care,” he said.


The hospital provides a “continuum of care” not found at all facilities, said Nancy Hoffman, foundation and marketing director. Beyond surgical facilities and urgent care, it offers options for every step of the recovery process, from rehabilitation services to “swing beds” and a skilled nursing home for those who need extra care. It also offers outpatient and home health services, she said.


“That continuum of care we provide makes us special,” Hoffman said.


But several patients said it’s the personal touch that makes the hospital special.


Eleanor Werfal, 81, has used the facility all her life—her children were born there and had their tonsils out there, she said.


The Milton woman went to Mercy Hospital for a medical procedure in October because her doctor ordered it, but she went to Edgerton for rehabilitation because that’s where she felt comfortable, she said.


“I got such good care,” Werfal said. “They’re all so friendly.”


But it’s not enough to have personal care and a community feel anymore, Borremans said. No matter how friendly the employees, it’s hard for Edgerton Hospital to compete with larger and flashier hospitals nearby, such as Mercy, Borremans said.


Edgerton has just 25 hospital beds and 300 employees (including employees at its nursing home), compared to Mercy Health System’s 240 beds and more than 3,800 employees—2,100 at the Janesville hospital alone, according to officials from both hospitals.


Borremans compares Edgerton’s situation to mom-and-pop stores that are being put out of business in today’s big-box economy.


“Everybody hates Wal-Mart, but everybody goes to Wal-Mart,” he said. “It’s the same kind of thing.”


Edgerton especially has trouble attracting younger patients, he said. Many of its patients are aging. The hospital got rid of its birthing department 20 years ago and doesn’t have a pediatrics department.


“Parents tend to go where the kids go, or they go to a facility close to where they work, and there are more and more folks who work outside the community,” Borremans said.


About 60 percent of the hospital’s patients are age 65 and older, but Pernau says they reflect Edgerton’s aging population. Besides, as a Critical Access Hospital, Edgerton receives money from Medicare and has to provide service to older residents, he said.


Meanwhile, hospital administrators believe a new, state-of-the-art facility, combined with growth in Edgerton and Milton, will expand the hospital’s patient base.


The administrators toured other new facilities in rural areas across Wisconsin and found the new hospitals tended to increase patient loads by 20 percent to 25 percent, said Jim Schultz, chairman of the hospital’s foundation.


“The younger generation is looking at technology and how new and well-equipped the facility is,” Schultz said.


Officials haven’t decided exactly what services the new hospital will provide, but it will evolve with Edgerton’s changing needs, Pernau said.


“Our people have a right to choose where they go for health care, and it’s my goal to make sure we’re the facility of choice,” he said. “Our limiting factor right now is the age of the facility.”



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