Jason Barker, president/CEO of Saint Vincent Healthcare, speaks

Jason Barker, president/CEO of St. Vincent Healthcare, speaks during the ribbon cutting for the hospital’s new Total Joint Replacement Center on Wednesday.

The first phase of St. Vincent Healthcare’s remodeling of its Orthopedic Center for Excellence was unveiled Wednesday.

As a crowd of hospital officials, employees and physicians looked on, St. Vincent CEO and President Jason Barker helped to cut a green ribbon opening the Joint Replacement Center on the hospital’s fifth floor. The next phase, the Orthopedic Center, is scheduled to open in 2013.

CTA Architects Engineers of Billings designed the $8.4 million project, which began construction last November. Langlas Construction was the general contractor.

During a short ceremony, Barker said that when St. Vincent opened more than 100 years ago, the hospital’s nurses and physicians cared for polio patients with orthopedic problems “with the most advanced treatment.”

Today, St. Vincent completes more hip and knee replacements than any other hospital in Montana, he said. The newly remodeled Joint Replacement Center will enhance the ability of physicians and staff to give excellent care to patients.

“You can see that it’s very pleasing to the eye, but you also know that it’s very patient-centered, and it will really make a difference to our patients,” Barker said.

The center is planned to give patients and their caregivers a homelike experience, with ample room to maneuver in the important first hours after surgery. The rooms, functional yet nicely designed, are nearly twice as big as before and include couches for family members who want to stay overnight.

The unit is designed in pods so that each patient room is in sight of a nurse’s station. The renovation also includes a large therapy center where patients will continue their rehabilitation.

Dr. Dean Sukin, orthopedic surgeon with Ortho Montana, said St. Vincent Healthcare has offered state-of-the-art care to its orthopedic patients.

“Now we have a comparable setting for the initial phases of recovery for our patients,” he said.

The center has a spalike feel, Sukin added, which was done for a specific reason.

“People receiving new hips and knees and shoulders are not sick patients,” Sukin said. “They are individuals who want to improve their quality of life. This center will be their start.”

The hallway entrance to the Joint Replacement Center looks more like a hotel than a hospital, with tile floor that looks like marble and light fixtures on the walls.

A total of 856 joint replacements were performed at St. Vincent in 2011, hospital officials said. With the new Orthopedic Center of Excellence, the hospital will be able to serve an additional 600 patients a year.

St. Vincent Healthcare predicts that with the surge of baby boomers, demand for total joint replacements will increase significantly. Yellowstone County is projected to experience a 125 percent increase in its population of people 60 and over by 2030, the hospital said.

Sukin gave three reasons for the increase in the 60-plus population. More patients are living into their late 70s, 80s and even 90s. More people were very active when they were young and sustained injuries that caused arthritis later in life.

“And I think the third issue is obesity in the country has taken its toll on weight-bearing joints and caused more arthritis,” Sukin said.

The fastest-growing segment of patients is younger than in the past, he said. They include people in their late 40s and 50s who sustained injuries in younger years or are obese.

One former patient, Ron Heller, spoke at the event Wednesday. Heller, who played in the National Football League for 12 years, retired from the Miami Dolphins in 1995.

He and his wife moved to Montana to be closer to her family, Heller said. When he asked his team physician about who to turn to for the future joint replacements he would need, his doctor suggested St. Vincent.

Since then, Heller has had both knees and both shoulders replaced at St. Vincent by Ortho Montana surgeons.

“I’ve had it done here with confidence, with faith in the doctors, the nursing staff and the facilities,” Heller said.

After looking around the wing he said, “I almost felt guilty that I really don’t have anything left to replace,” sparking laughter from the group.

The renovation is being paid for by the hospital, the St. Vincent Healthcare Foundation and community support. The entire project is expected to cost $10 million, said Dave Irion, president and CEO of the St. Vincent Healthcare Foundation.

The next phase will include a central seating area for patients and their families and renovation of 28 orthopedic patient rooms.

Get local news delivered to your inbox!

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.