Growing With You” is Mille Lacs Health System’s theme for the Progress edition this spring. And despite this last year’s challenges due to COVID-19, the facility is continuing to grow and is looking forward to strength and progress in the year ahead.

In the past year, MLHS has continued to push forward with the building of the Next Chapter: Building Our Healthy Future expansion project. Construction began on the 33 million dollar endeavor, and nothing slowed it down. “Outside our windows, we have been witnessing the dream taking shape and changing right in front of us,” said MLHS CEO Bill Nelson, “all the work that went into it, which involved so many people, finally is becoming a reality.”

Along with the MLHS CEO, a core of dedicated members of the building committee put in years of long hours (and time away from families) pouring over plans, budgets, architectural drawings, and feasibility studies. Ground was broken “unofficially” in the summer. But because of COVID, the planned large groundbreaking gathering which would have seen community representatives  and leaders, medical staff, and the larger boards of the health system as well as the Mille Lacs Area Health Foundation (helping to fund the project), sadly, could not happen. Silently and without fanfare, those most deeply involved in the hard early work pushed shovels into the ground on a blistering hot day last summer. One of those people was Phil Gravel (then on the board and who is still the building committee chair) whose grandfather Louis Sr. had held his own shovel of dirt on the land that was being prepped for the original hospital back in 1956.

On that winter day in 1956, Louis Sr.’s son, Louis Jr., had just gotten out of the service and was looking forward to sleeping in on the groundbreaking day, but was awoken early by his father and told to help haul straw to the construction site so it wouldn’t freeze. “I was a 22 year-old who just needed extra sleep,” Louis Jr. said. “I didn’t see the bigger picture that day. But in time, I grew to be very proud of all the work my father and so many others did back then to make sure we had our own hospital. Our family donated the land the hospital was built on, because of the strong belief that people need medical care that is good care, and is local.”

“This project is important,” Phil Gravel (Louis Jr.’s son) said. “It will allow Mille Lacs Health System to continue to provide services to the folks in our area for the next generation. People are going to really like the new facilities and the modifications that are being made to the existing building.”


The project is scheduled to be completed in the early winter of 2022.  Fundraising for the expansion is ongoing. So far, the Major Gifts campaign has brought in more than $1,800,000 with 31 donors (individuals and groups) requesting a Naming Recognition to one of our 60 rooms or spaces within the new construction or remodeled areas. Our Hearts of Mille Lacs Annual Giving campaign has brought in $44,055 towards their $100,000 goal to secure the Naming Recognition to the Check-In Area. Our Key Contributor Employee Giving campaign has brought in $50,000 towards their $150,000 goal to secure the Naming Recognition to the Cafeteria and a Meeting Room, both within the new construction. Our employees are participating at a rate of 62%, a very high employee participation rate for groups raising money for health facilities.

Naming Recognition opportunities for one of the rooms or areas within the new construction or remodeled spaces are part of our fundraising effort. Donor name/company/or “in memory of” will be displayed in the donor space.

The Mille Lacs Area Health Foundation Board of Directors, Mille Lacs Health System’s Board of Directors, Key Contributor Committee, and Senior Leadership Team at MLHS all appreciate the community’s ongoing support.


Also in 2020-21, staff and visiting specialists were added to the MLHS roster, bringing healthcare closer to home for patients in the communities MLHS serves. Two new physician assistants were brought on for family medical care: Kelsey Merck, and Josh Kruize. And Dr. Rod Hayes came out of retirement to work in our Hillman clinic once again a few days a month.

Also added were visiting specialists Dr. Julie Hodge, (Dermatology); Dr. Sailaja Enduri, (Neurology); Dr. Steven Sabers, (Pain Management); Nurse Practitioner Katie Ehlen, (Pain Management); and Dr. Brad Qualey, (Urology).


The advent of COVID-19 fast-tracked the creation of a virtual visit system, giving patients the option of either taking an appointment in person or “seeing” their medical provider via phone, computer or tablet. With the convenience, the shorter obligation of time, and without having to travel, virtual care has helped patients stay connected to their care, even during a pandemic.

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