Master Facilities Planning at North Central Health Care Wausau Campus

Written by Jessica Meadows and Lance Leonhard

Over the last 125 years, the organization today known as North Central Health Care (NCHC) began providing healthcare and services to many residents of Marathon County. While the name has changed and delivery of care and services has certainly changed, the dedication to Marathon County residents remains strong.

Asylum Photo 1893
Marathon County Asylum for the Insane. (Photo courtesy of North Central Health Care.)

Dating back to 1893, the Marathon County Asylum for the Insane was built on a caring dedication to our community.

1925 article on the Marathon County Home and Hospital featured in The Wausau Pilot. (Photo courtesy of North Central Health Care.)

“It can be truthfully said that the Marathon County institution is one of the best conducted institutions in the state…”

— Excerpted from The Wausau Pilot, 1925


“We believe this institution is a demonstration of what harmony can produce when employees of the institution and the board of trustees are working together.”

— John D. Christie, Superintendent of the Marathon County Home and Hospital, 1925

In 1916, the beginning of nursing home care was established in Marathon County with the creation of the Rib View Sanitarium.

Rib View Sanitarium. (Photo courtesy of North Central Health Care.)

In 1970, the Health Care Center was built in the current location that it is today at 1100 Lake View Drive in Wausau. It was not until 1985 that ground broke to replace multiple nursing home facilities — Mount View Nursing Home and Sunny Vale Nursing Home — to create Mount View Care Center. Since 1986, the Wausau Campus has remained relatively unchanged.

With such a rich history of care and collaboration, it is no wonder that today Marathon County and North Central Health Care are turning the page of history to write the next chapter. In April of 2018, North Central Health Care and Marathon County Administration presented the Marathon County Board with a $67 million renovation proposal that will move mental health, substance abuse, and skilled nursing care into the future. This proposal was presented by a team from North Central Health Care, Marathon County Administration, Marathon County Facilities and Capital Management, and HGA Architects & Engineers. Together, the team worked tirelessly for approximately a year to generate a Master Facilities Plan that not only addressed the current demands of the Wausau Campus but also looked to the future to prepare for a constantly evolving world of healthcare and service delivery.

What Is a Master Facilities Plan?

A Master Facilities Plan is a dynamic, long-term planning document that provides a conceptual layout to guide future growth and development. It includes analysis, recommendations, and proposals that provide how a certain facility can (as opposed to will) develop and redevelop into the future.

The North Central Health Care Wausau Campus today boasts over 500,000 square feet of space situated on 17 acres overlooking Lake Wausau and Rib Mountain. (Photo courtesy of HGA Architects & Engineers.)

What Does the Campus Look Like Today?

Take a virtual tour of the facility with Michael Loy, CEO of North Central Health Care. This quick tour will give you the same information that was presented to the Marathon County Board of Supervisors during their tours.

Master Facilities Plan Objectives

The planning team devised three major components to define success. From the perspective of North Central Health Care, there were two major areas of focus: Enhancing Personal Dignity and Financial Stewardship. In addition to those goals, from the perspective of Marathon County, any renovation needed to fit within the overall collection of Marathon County’s numerous facilities; that is, it needed to have a Comprehensive Scope. Ultimately, these goals drove the conceptual design process.

Enhancing Personal Dignity

  1. Point of Access and Functional Adjacencies — In a nutshell, these terms mean redesigning workflow and physical spaces that will allow for professionals to do their jobs more efficiently and will allow patients, clients, and residents easier access to services. They would also allow for the potential for other Marathon County programming to occupy parts of the Campus, providing a larger variety of opportunities for residents.
  2. Patient Flow, Way-Finding, Communication, and Safety — At the current Wausau Campus, not only is way-finding complex but also corridors can be long, confusing, and time consuming to navigate for patients, residents, clients, and even staff. With 113 doors or points of entry on the campus, safety also becomes a high concern.
  3. Evidence-Based Design to Improve Outcomes — The team looked to research and other facilities to see what works and what doesn’t work. They spent hours touring, photographing, and interviewing employees at similar facilities and determining what would deliver the best outcomes for those served.
  4. Enable Ourselves for Higher Acuity (Medically Complex) Care — The Master Facilities Plan took into consideration modern-day healthcare environment requirements and looked to make areas more flexible and capable of serving and treating a more complex patient, resident, or client.
  5. Deinstitutionalize and Prepare for Increased Demand and Future Flexibility — In the early 1970s, cinder block and stone were very modern in appeal; however, nearly 50 years later, this is no longer true. Several patients have compared the sterile block walls, lack of natural light, and limited access to the environment to a jail cell.
A view of a main corridor at the Wausau Campus. (Photo courtesy of North Central Health Care.)

Financial Stewardship

  1. Consolidate Administrative and Support Functions — Administrative functions within and between departmentsare scattered throughout the organization. Long hallways shared by staff, food carts, deliveries, and foot and wheelchair traffic from residents, families, and the general public will be replaced with specific on-stage and off-stage areas. Delivery carts and patients, residents, and clients will no longer have to share hallways, and the resident environments will be more homelike.
  1. Reduce Overall Square Footage and Maximize Technology — While some may assume renovations mean making a space larger, this proposal actually aims at reducing the overall square footage of the facility by 20,000 to 25,000 square feet. The renovations will maximize the footprint of the building while also maximizing and enabling the use of modern technology.
  1. Operate More Efficiently — From boilers to HVAC systems, leaner more efficient systems will bring 60% efficient equipment up to over 90% efficiency. In a facility that currently heats 500,000 square feet of hallways and space, a more efficient system will save money on operations instantly.
  1. Leader in Educational Programming — North Central Health Care is being seen as a leader and partner in many educational partnerships, including residency programming onsite for physicians and training centers for skilled nursing. Having a facility with more modern and capable training facilities will have the ability to draw to the area future physicians who will ultimately want to stay here in Marathon County.
  1. Quality Workspace — All employees want to feel as though they are providing care and support services in a high-quality environment. A modern, adaptable, and highly flexible facility will attract professionals from outside the area, as well as provide higher retention rates to those already employed at the facility.
Conceptual design. (Photo courtesy of HGA Architects & Engineers.)
Overhead view of conceptual design. (Photo courtesy of HGA Architects & Engineers.)

Financial models were created to predict the overall efficiencies and cost savings, as well as reimbursement rates and increased revenue as a result of the renovations moving forward. The models predict that increased revenues and decreased costs realized in the new facility would pay for the costs of the project! So, while Marathon County would secure the 20-year bonds for project, the bond payments would be made in full by NCHC, not levied as a tax to Marathon County residents.

Comprehensive Scope

We are all familiar with the pressures on local governments: expanding community needs — particularly those stemming from the opioid and methamphetamine epidemic — and tightening budgets. Marathon County needed this Master Plan to have a broader reach than simply within the Campus property off of Lakeview Drive. This plan does just that.

The consolidation of NCHC’s operational footprint affords Marathon County the opportunity to examine potential uses for the existing vacated space, allowing the County to think about its many other facilities differently. Relocating programs or services to the NCHC Campus that support many of the residents accessing services through NCHC would lead to better care, while also potentially saving money.

In the end, after listening to the planning team discuss the concept (watch their presentation here), the Marathon County Board approved moving forward with the plan. Future Board and Committee meetings will develop next steps.

So, You Have Questions…

The planning team wants to answer your questions. They have compiled a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document full of important answers for interested community members. View or download our NCHC Master Facility Plan FAQ document here.

If, after reading that, you still have questions, please email Troy Torgerson, Marathon County Facilities & Capital Management Planner, the project manager for the Master Facilities Plan project.

The future of how we continue to serve our community is before us . . .

Our outlook is bright, and just as we have done for decades, NCHC and Marathon County will work together with our community and continue to move forward working to be the healthiest, safest, and most prosperous county in the State of Wisconsin.

Jessica_MeadowsJessica Meadows

Communications & Marketing Coordinator  |  North Central Health Care

As the Communications and Marketing Coordinator at North Central Health Care (NCHC), Jessica Meadows is passionate about being able to use her creative talents to connect people to healthcare, resources, and networking that will impact their life in a positive way. Prior to joining NCHC, she was a Creative Director and leader at a marketing agency in the Stevens Point area. With almost 20 years’ experience in print, web, social media, video, radio, and public relations, it was important for her to connect back to her roots here in the Wausau area, where she and her husband raise their two young children. When she’s not busy at an event or volunteering, she enjoys playing sports, coaching, biking, traveling, and exploring the outdoors.  Email Jessica Meadows.

Lance Leonard - Marathon County Deputy Administrator

Lance Leonhard

Marathon County Deputy Administrator 

Lance Leonhard began his career in Marathon County government in the Office of Corporation Counsel and currently serves as the Marathon County Deputy Administrator. Lance’s career in public service has spanned more than a decade, having worked for the federal government as a law clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and for the state of Wisconsin as an Assistant District Attorney. Outside of work, you’re likely to find Lance spending time with his family, traveling, teeing off on a local golf course, or sitting around a campfire with friends.  Email Lance Leonhard.

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