Douglas County Hospital is now Alomere Health.

“This is a big day in the story of our hospital, our clinics, and our community, and I could not be more thrilled to announce our much-anticipated new name,” said Carl Vaagenes, CEO of Alomere Health, at a communitywide celebration at the main entrance of the hospital on May 11th.

Douglas County Hospital officially became Alomere Health on May 11. The name and logo were revealed at a special ceremony led by Carl Vaagenes, CEO of Alomere Health (pictured right). Contributed photo

The change to Alomere Health is the result of more than five years of discussions, analysis and feedback from a wide variety of people inside and outside the organization.

There are a few key reasons for the name change.

First, it was determined the name Douglas County Hospital no longer adequately reflected the regional impact of the organization. According to Vaagenes, 40 percent of the hospital’s workforce now resides outside of Douglas County, and the hospital serves patients from 186 zip codes.

“The geography we serve was definitely a big driver into the name change,” said Vaagenes.

Next, the merger with Heartland Orthopedic Specialists in 2011 and Alexandria Clinic in 2012 meant that the organization had four entities that were operating under separate names, and a loosely tied identity.

“We thought, how do we bring some unity around our brand as an organization?” said Vaagenes. “We still have Heartland Orthopedic Specialists and Alexandria Clinic in our brand, but now we have changed the icon so that there is some similarity across all the brands, including the color scheme and fonts so people will be able to identify us as one entity.”

“We now have an opportunity to unify all those brands under a single brand,” said Eddie Reif, director of Community Relations and Development at Alomere Health. “This will bring us together in a much more powerful way.”

Finally, the word “hospital” was removed from the name because the facility had evolved into more than a hospital, with a wide range of clinics and services on site, including general surgery, OB/GYN, medical oncology, radiation oncology, and inpatient/outpatient rehab services.

“Prior to the rebranding, we went through a process of updating our mission as an organization,” said Vaagenes. “Our mission states that ‘our passion and purpose is to strengthen and nurture the health and well being of our family, friends, neighbors and community through every season of life.’ The meaning of the name, Alomere, reflects the mission. The word “alo” is Latin for strengthen or nurture and “mere” means lake in Old English. So the new name both honors our mission as well as our geography with the privilege of living in this beautiful lake county.”

During the discussions, names with the word “lake” or “lakes” (including lake region, lake country, central lakes) were often brought up.

“There are a lot of names with ‘lakes’ in it,” said Reif. “We felt like we would get lost with other organizations if ‘lakes’ was in our title.”

“The challenge with using a name that has never existed before is we have to explain it,” said Vaagenes. “But it is also provides an opportunity to discuss our name and our mission.”

“This is a brand that we can own, and we can define it through our word and action, by providing the same high-quality level of care we have been providing for the last 70 years,” said Reif.

Several steps were taken over the last few years which lead to the decision to change the name.

New signage with the new name has been going up throughout the facility. Contributed photo

“We did a survey among the staff and community members to help get at some of the factors that determine what differentiated us as an organization,” said Vaagenes. “We did about 15 different reactionary round tables with external groups such as the economic development commission, the chamber of commerce, the school district, as well as our staff. We were looking to identify exactly what others feel differentiates us and what our strengths and opportunities are as an organization.”

Those surveys and round tables revealed some common thoughts and opinions.

“It was really about the experience and compassion, patient-centered care, excellence in specialty clinics,” said Vaagenes. “It was all focused around excellence.”

“And also the people,” said Reif. “Compassionate, caring people who deliver excellent care and create positive outcomes.”

“The people who work here are here because they believe in the mission of the organization,” said Vaagenes. “It feels like they live out the mission on a day-to-day basis in interactions with each other and interactions with patients. They want to do the very best that they can, and it shows. It helps to build the trust and confidence of the people we are serving.”

Next, a task force was formed that included community members, medical staff, management, county commissioners and others. A third party consultant helped facilitate the process of determining if a name change was in the best interest of the organization moving forward.

“If all the information came back from these conversations, surveys and round tables and it came back saying that it was detrimental to the organization to change the name, we wouldn’t have done it. We wanted to leave every option on the table,” said Reif.

“About 90 percent of the responses were either neutral or positive to a name change. Of the 90 percent, about 75 percent of those were in favor of a name change.” said Vaagenes

Alomere Health is owned by Douglas County, just as Douglas County Hospital was, and that will continue going forward.

“The board hasn’t changed, and the composition of the board hasn’t changed through this process,” said Vaagenes. “It is all the same. Although our name has changed, we are still the same team of health care professionals you have trusted for years.”

The name change is just the latest major change by Alomere Health in the last decade as the organization continues to evolve and grow.

In 2010, Douglas County Hospital more than doubled its size, with an 110,000-square-foot, three-story addition costing approximately $32 million. The ground floor was leased to Heartland Orthopedic Specialists, the second floor provided a new surgical inpatient unit , and the third floor housed the hospital’s obstetric and nursery unit, The Birth Place.

The following year, the hospital announced plans to merge with Heartland Orthopedic Specialists and months later, Alexandria Clinic (which also included the Osakis Clinic).

In 2017, the hospital completed a $15 million project that added another 7,500 square feet and transformed over 25,000 square feet of the original 1955 building into a new specialty clinic and a new same-day surgical clinic.  The number of operating rooms also expanded from six to eight during this time.

“Our medical staff has also continued to grow over the past several years,” said Vaagenes. “We have added more than 40 new providers in just six years, and we are adding two new orthopedic surgeons this summer.”

Heartland Orthopedic recently celebrated it 5,000th total joint patient, and Reif said it is likely more than 6,000, as they do not count total joint procedures done in trauma situations.

The added space has allowed Alomere to be more efficient with its space and providers’ time. Many hospital-based surgical specialties were moved from the Alexandria Clinic (two miles away) to the hospital, improving the patient experience and making it easier for doctors to serve their patients.

As all the expansions and renovations were being made, Douglas County Hospital was also being recognized for its excellence.

In 2009, Douglas County Hospital achieved a Level III Trauma designation for the first time. The hospital is staffed with providers who work exclusively in the emergency room, plus a helicopter to provide emergency transports to larger facilities when needed.

“We are also the busiest Level III Trauma in the state of Minnesota, with more than 16,000 ER admissions,” said Vaagenes.

Alomere Health is located at 111 17th Avenue East in Alexandria. Contributed photo

Other designations… In 2012, Douglas County Hospital was named Top 100 in the nation for Joint Replacement Patient Safety by CareChex. In 2013, they were rated one of the Top 14 Hospitals in Minnesota for Safe Surgery by Consumer Reports. In 2016, they were named Top Performing Rural Hospital by the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health. In 2017, they were recognized as a High Performing Hospital by U.S. News & World Report, with the highest rating possible for hip replacement surgery, and they also earned the prestigious 5-Star designation from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, one of only eight Minnesota hospitals to receive an “A” rating for patient safety by the Leapfrog Group.

Through all the changes in the last decade, Alomere Health has changed and adapted and is positioned to continue that evolution in the years ahead.

“We feel that we have been able to successfully navigate the changes that are happening in the health care environment as an independent community-owned, integrated system,” said Vaagenes. “If you have people pursuing different priorities and visions, it doesn’t work. The vision here for the last six to seven years has been very much focused on what we believe is going to offer the most services and the best access to health care services locally. We have been fortunate that we have been able to do that and continue to reinvest in our facility, technology and our staff.”

This is not the first time the hospital’s name has changed. The first hospital in Alexandria was called Boyd Hospital when it opened its doors at the corner of 9th and Elm, with enough beds for six patients, in 1899. Eight years later, it merged with another practice in town (Dr. Hensel’s) and was renamed St. Luke’s Hospital. A second hospital, Mercy Hospital, was established in 1917. In 1922, Dr. Edwin Tanquist began plans to start a third hospital in town overlooking Lake Winona. This hospital would later become part of Douglas County Hospital. In 1926, fire destroyed part of St. Luke’s, and the hospital was remodeled and expanded to 22 beds, nearly four times its former capacity. In 1944, Dr. Tanquist invited the Franciscan Sisters to take over operations of his hospital, and it was renamed Our Lady of Mercy Hospital. To meet the needs of the growing community, citizens of Douglas County built a new, state-of-the-art, 50-bed hospital and named it Douglas County Hospital in 1955. Shortly after, St. Luke’s Hospital transferred patients to the new hospital and became St. Luke’s Rest Home. In 1969, Our Lady of Mercy and Douglas County Hospital merged, with one of their facilities called Douglas County North and the other Douglas County South. Four years later, the newly merged hospital had completed its first expansion, adding a 101-bed wing to the south location. At the same time, the north location was closed, the south location is where Alomere Health sits today.

To learn more about Alomere Health, visit www.alomerehealth.com or find them on Facebook. Alomere Health is located at 111 17th Avenue East, Alexandria, MN 56308. They can be reached by calling 320-762-1511.