Obstetrics are disappearing from rural counties across America, but not in the Oil Patch. In the Oil Patch, most recently in McKenzie County, there is a resurgence.

A new wing that will be devoted to labor and delivery has already been completed in the McKenzie County Health Care Center, its cost underwritten by Whiting Oil and Gas with two gifts totaling $250,000.

On Thursday, healthcare and clinic officials gathered with community members to celebrate and salute the oil and gas company’s contribution to the community’s future.

Ashlee McNamee and Darius Frick, with Whiting Oil and Gas, said the choice to contribute to the labor and delivery wing was employee generated.

“With the idea of a hospital circulating through the community, our employees were excited, and one of the first questions they had was labor and delivery,” McNamee said.

More than 50 percent of Whiting’s employees are under 40, she added. “So we will be the ones putting babies in there hopefully.”

Frick, whose wife’s grandparents homesteadws in the area, later told the Williston Herald that grandchild No. 3 is on the way.

“It will show up before this is ready to go,” he said. “But as a grandpa, this is excitement that this can happen, that we can have the little babies in our town again. For our community, and for our employees, this is what we need to continue to make Watford City a strong, growing place where people want to come find a job, and a career, and make a home — like we have done.”

McKenzie County Healthcare Systems CEO Dan Kelly, meanwhile, recalled a time when the health center’s board was considering a $35 million renovation of a facility that would have landlocked their future, and wouldn’t have met the community’s ultimate needs.

“Maybe fortuitously we didn’t really the money to undertake that at the time,” Kelly said. “So the board decided, wisely I think, to hold off, and thank God we did. Because with this building, we have everything on one campus. We have the ability to grow and provide everything that this community needs.”

Partners like Whiting have made all the difference, Kelly added.

“We wouldn’t be in the building we have if not for partners like Whiting,” he said. “I have said this many times and will continue to say it. If I have to be the administrator of a healthcare system in oil country, I want it to be in McKenzie County, because this is a county that can get things done.”

The $86 million expansion and renovation of McKenzie County Healthcare put a nursing home, hospital, and clinic all under one roof, and allowed the addition of a new surgical wing, as well as the new labor and delivery wing underwritten by Whiting.

The latter, while complete, is not yet ready to host expectant mothers. That day will not arrive until the newly opened women’s clinic is well-established, and the hospital’s surgery unit is not just fully staffed, but functioning at a high level.

“This is based on stages,” Michael Curtis, chief Administrative officer of McKenzie County Health Care System told the Williston Herald in an interview after the check presentation ceremony. “You don’t dabble in labor and delivery. You either do it or you do not, and if you do it, you have to do it well.”

In the first stage, Great Plains ‘Women’s Health Center began holding clinics in Watford City two or three times a month, to gauge interest in gynecological services. That has been well-received. Enough to justify expanding the number of clinics per month.

“A lot of our patients are from Watford City,” practice manager Leland Tong told the Williston Herald. “We just didn’t know what the demand would be in terms of patients for a clinic here. So part of this was learning some of that. Instead of jumping headfirst into this, we took sustainable steps, if you will.”

The privately owned practice has since hired two new doctors who will be starting in the fall, which represents a net expansion of one. That helps make it possible to continue expanding services in both Williston and Watford City.

“Women in northwestern North Dakota deserve high-quality access to health care, just like they can get anywhere else,” Tong said.

The next step, now that the clinic is doing so well, is building up the hospital’s surgical capabilities. That phase starts by offering several gynecological surgeries.

The final leap to labor and delivery will require not only high-level capabilities, but adequate staffing. That’s in the face of a national shortage of nurses in particular, and a Bakken a shortage of workforce in general.

“We are developing a program with Williston State,” Curtis said. “We are hoping that in the fall of 2020 we can offer an LPN program here, and the goal is to grow it into an RN program, so we would essentially become a satellite of Williston State.”

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