Spectra Health moves forward with nod to past ties

Primary care clinic works to own and expand a downtown facility with historical roots in the community of Grand Forks.

Primary care clinic Spectra Health is working to acquire the downtown building it leases, which would add another chapter to the location’s long history of providing medical care in the Grand Forks community.

Spectra, which already occupies the majority of the space in the building at 212 S. Fourth St., is pushing that space to the limit as coronavirus mitigation protocols necessitate spacing out staff and clients. Talks were in place to purchase the building before the pandemic, but its mid-March onset pushed the process along. On Oct. 6, the Grand Forks County Commission, at the request of an attorney representing Spectra, gave preliminary approval to issuing a bond of up to $2.75 million to help the clinic finance the deal for the old Deaconess Hospital.

“As we have been establishing ourselves here and continuing on with our city partnerships, we’ve been acquiring more rental space, and it has come to the point where we are bursting at the seams,” said Tiffany Schmidt, CFO of Spectra Health. “It would make more sense to acquire the building rather than to continue the perpetual rent expense.”

The County Commission will hold the required public hearing on Nov. 3 to consider issuing the bond. Should it do so, the county would act as a conduit to allow Spectra the benefit of a tax exempt interest rate and would not be under any financial obligation under state law.

Spectra Health started in 2004 as Valley Community Health Centers and operated in Grand Forks and Larimore. In 2007, the facility added dental services and has expanded over the years to become a primary care facility that offers a variety of medical services, including counseling and behavioral health.

As the clinic continues to grow, officials plan on adding an ophthalmology department, which will be made possible by a Community Development Block Grant from the city. Similar grants are responsible for other projects in the building, including an updated elevator and more space for staff and clients.

The coronavirus pandemic has caused patient levels to drop somewhat, but Schmidt said people are still coming to Spectra for their primary care needs — immunizations and well-child visits. Before the pandemic, the dental clinic saw as many as 100 patients a day. Still, the clinic is working to make itself more visible in the community and explain its role.

“A lot of people don’t know about us yet, so we need to make sure that we’re telling people it’s not just for people who don’t have insurance,” Schmidt said. “(The clinic) is for everyone. We take all types of insurance, and if you don’t have it, you can income-qualify for discounts received here.”

While officials at Spectra look to the future, they don’t want to forget the past. Adding services and capacity means expanding into some of the unused space in the building. Surgical bays built in the 1950s are still covered in green tile. According to Mara Jiran, CEO of Spectra Health, the color scheme was meant to relax surgeons’ eyes during long operations. She wants to make sure that history is remembered.

“We’re going to try and preserve a little bit of that tile, to just pull in the history,” Jiran said. “There’s such a neat history and heart to the building. We’re really excited to make sure that we can keep the original roots and bring them back.”

According to records accessed at Social Networks and Archival Context, an international cooperative of archives, libraries and museums, the Deaconess Hospital was originally known as St. Luke’s Hospital and was built in 1892 by Dr. J.E. Engstad. It was the first hospital in the country to be owned by a Scandinavian. Engstad sold the hospital to the Deaconess Corporation just before the turn of the century. The company added to the building and created a program to train nurses, which continued until 1959. In 1971, Deaconess sold the hospital to the United Hospital Corporation.

“There’s a really rich story behind this,” Jiran said. “There are some (community health centers) that are that by name, and there are some that have it in their livelihood, and that’s what we are.”