The community got a dose of good news last week when Saint Alphonsus Medical Center unveiled its latest change in Ontario. Hospital officials pulled back the curtains on all-new patient rooms, the result of an $11 million makeover. In a time when health care seems to be in constant turmoil, this sort of investment in local medical care is important.

Guests got to tour the modernized rooms during last week’s open house and blessing. The work was done to improve hospital operations, but also to make a hospital stay more endurable. The rooms don’t have that typical sterile feel of a medical unit. The soft colors, furnishings and lighting all provide what one hospital official termed a “soothing environment.” Anyone who has ever had to stay over in any hospital would especially appreciate that change.

The remodeling moves onto a single floor the medical/surgical rooms and the critical care unit. That will smooth out hospital operations, from doctors to surgeons to nurses and the rest of the care staff.

But this is about more than nicely-painted walls and larger bathrooms. This represents the continuing investment by the Saint Alphonsus organization in Ontario-area care. In recent years, some $50 million has been sunk into improvements. There have been previous remodels at the Ontario hospital. There were the additions of the Ontario Health Plaza, near the hospital, and the Fruitland Health Plaza just a quick hop over the bridge in Idaho.

In an era of consolidations and seeming retrenchment in some corners of the health care world, that Saint Alphonsus judges it wise to invest in Ontario benefits us all, even if we never have to set foot in the building. In a relatively rural area such as Malheur County, having access to this sort of first-class medical care is not just a convenience. It can and has been a matter of life.

John Kirby caught that notion when he spoke last week. He’s an Ontario hardware store owner and he’s been on the hospital board 18 years. He is currently chair – and he was born in the hospital.

“I’ve had family and friends celebrate – and weep – here,” Kirby said.

Dr. Paul Gering, hospital medical director, recounted joining the staff in 1996. He reflected on the range of care the hospital provides, noting on one shift he was splitting time between delivering a baby and tending to a dying 99-year-old patient.

Most of us hope the only time we have to go to Saint Alphonsus is to deliver flowers and wish someone well. But for life’s inevitabilities, all of us should take comfort in having a first-class hospital handy. Thanks to the Saint Alphonsus network, the hospital board, and leaders such as hospital president Ken Hart, for ensuring with these investments that if we do need care, we’re going to get the best. – LZ