Kalispell Regional Healthcare opens first pediatric hospital in rural Montana

Kalispell Regional Hospital opens the first children's hospital in western Montana. (Getty/shironosov)

Kalispell Regional Healthcare (KRH), a regional health system in western Montana, officially opened Montana Children’s, the first pediatric healthcare facility of its kind in the state.

Previously, in rural or frontier Montana, there were no hospitals with pediatric specialty departments or the staff needed to treat seriously ill children. But on July 1, the $60 million, 190,000-square-foot facility opened with a team of pediatric specialists. The system employs more than 100 pediatric/family medicine primary care providers, and more than 40 pediatric subspecialties including neonatology, cardiology, endocrinology, gastroenterology, oncology, hematology, neurology, critical care, neurosurgery, surgery, radiology, psychiatry, sleep medicine and dentistry.

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“This is a pediatric facility that is designed for acute or chronically ill children. Parents in Montana previously needed to leave the state to receive subspecialty care, to either Denver or Seattle,” a spokesperson for KRH told FierceHealthcare.

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Currently, only the first floor is open with a 12-bed pediatric unit, a six-bed pediatric intensive care unit and a 12-bed neonatal intensive care unit. All rooms were designed for privacy and to accommodate overnight family members. In addition, the NICU has dedicated sleeping rooms for parents and a family room equipped with seating, TV, full kitchen, washer, dryer and showers.

The building also has a child-life space and an outdoor playground attached. Child life specialists are trained in the emotional and developmental needs of kids and can help them and their families understand medical issues. These specialists provide therapeutic play, offer psychological preparation for surgery, preparation for re-entry to school and more.

The second and third floors, which will feature outpatient services, will open in the coming years.

“We are leading Montana in providing services that traditionally kids and families have had to travel out of state to get and are incredibly excited to share this facility with the community. Montana Children’s isn’t just a healthcare facility, it is a place where children can feel at home, feel at ease, and feel cared for—in an environment made just for them,” Teresa Fisher, administrator of Montana Children’s and KRH chief nursing executive, said in a statement.

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Finally, the building is designed to reflect a glacier theme, featuring design elements to match western Montana’s landscapes, flora and fauna. For example, artificial fish, created by a local glass artist, hang from the ceiling and a floor pattern resembling water showcases fish swimming in an interactive hologram.  

KRH began construction on the building in 2015. Eventually, Montana Children’s will house the largest team of pediatric subspecialists in the state.

KRH already sees thousands of pediatric patients a year. In 2018, the number of pediatric specialist visits was around 25,000, a 47% increase in new patient visits across its facilities. And the KPH NICU and PICU reported a 13% increase of patients in 2019.

“Improving access to care for children is a cornerstone of improving the lives of the communities they serve—the entire western part of the state,” the spokesperson added.

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