Jeff Holthaus had heard Tomah Memorial Hospital described as a “band-aid station” but didn’t think much about it until his 18-year-old son needed emergency surgery.

“I didn’t realize we had a surgical team 24 hours a day,” Holthaus recalled.

After five hours of middle-of-the-night intestinal surgery that couldn’t wait for a transfer to La Crosse, Holthaus’ son was on the road to recovery. It was an experience the father has never forgotten.

Holthaus co-chairs the capital fund-raising campaign for construction of Tomah’s new hospital. Groundbreaking was conducted Thursday at the site of the new $66 million facility on Gopher Avenue.

“We can be even better than what we have today,” Holthaus said. “Please correct someone when they say we’re just a band-aid shop. We’re a first-class hospital.”

The 40-acre site was purchased in May 2014 from Norman and Evelyn Randall and is expected to open in fall 2019. It will replace the Butts Avenue location that opened in 1952 and was expanded in 1964, 1994 and 2004. The site, hemmed in by Lake Tomah and residential units, has run out of room for expansion, which led the hospital board to opt for new construction.

“It was clear the only way to move forward ... was to put this project together,” fund-raising co-chair Keith Laugen said.

Financing includes a $35 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development Facilities program, the largest such grant ever for a Wisconsin project. It also includes an $18.1 million equity contribution from the hospital, a $13 million tax-exempt loan from Associated Bank and a projected $2 million from the capital fund raiser.

In addition, the Tomah Memorial Hospital Foundation has pledged up to $275,000 over five years for the construction of a wellness room and walking trail to encompass the medical campus.

Tomah city administrator Roger Gorius said the hospital is critical to attracting and retaining businesses.

“Right at the top of it is health care − everybody wants to know, ‘What do you have?’” Gorius said. “We are always happy to say we have top-notch health care in Tomah ... we’re looking forward to seeing this building go up.”

The three-story facility will occupy 140,000 square feet. TMH board president Paul Potter said a dedicated staff will treat patients in a “modern, efficient facility.”

“I don’t want to downplay the magnitude of this project by saying this, but what we’re about to build is just a shell,” Potter said. “Great people inside that great facility will do great things.”

During the ceremony, the hospital announced that Gundersen Health System will build a clinic attached to the hospital. Gundersen CEO Dr. Scott Rathgaber said the clinic will allow Gundersen to expand its Tomah services, including cancer/radiation treatment and podiatry.

“We’re very grateful that Gundersen has been invited to come on this journey,” Rathgaber said. “We’ve been committed to the Tomah area for decades, and we are happy to be able to expand our services to the community.”

Beginning with the occupancy of the new facility, Tomah Memorial Hospital will change its name to Tomah Health. The hospital worked with Greenleaf Media on the new name and re-branding of the hospital.

“Tomah Health will be much more than a hospital,” said Greenleaf Media’s Mary Walsh. “It will be a comprehensive health and wellness community.”

The hospital said in a press release there are no “definitive plans” for the existing facility but that “preliminary discussions have occurred with interested parties.”

Holthaus noted that the new hospital will be visible to motorists traveling on Interstate 90.

“It’s going to be a billboard to everyone that drives by to say Tomah has first-class health care,” he said.

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Steve Rundio is editor of the Tomah Journal. Contact him at 608-374-7785.

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