VIRGINIA — Realizing a standalone facility was no longer feasible, Iron Range Rehabilitation and Essentia Health recently approved a merger of sorts that will allow the area’s large health care system to provide rehab services in Virginia.

The Iron Range Rehabilitation Center’s transition into Essentia Health-Virginia Iron Range Rehab was made official Sept. 1, which came about 63 years after the IRRC first made its home on the Virginia hospital campus.

“It was just perfect for us at this time in our histories to merge and become one complete campus,’’ said Drew Elliott, Rehab Services manager for Essentia Health-Virginia. Elliott also served as the IRRC’s executive director.

“Stand alone facilities are becoming fewer and fewer. We are a unique size where we were too big to be small and too small to be big.’’

Elliott said he did not know if there’s a benefit to being a standalone facility as opposed to being integrated into a larger and broader health care system. Essentia serves an even larger community than we’ve had access to, he said, which opens up a lot of avenues.

According to a memo to employees on Essentia’s Virginia campus, the “IRR approached Essentia after their leadership team concluded they could no longer sustain their operations and continue to provide care as a standalone entity. Recognizing the valuable role IRR plays in caring for our patients and the community, we welcomed the opportunity to talk about how Essentia could help sustain the availability of therapy services in the community.’’

There should be very few changes for patients, according to Elliott, who said the 30-person staff remains intact, the appointment process remains the same and the phone numbers are unchanged.

The number of rehab employees actually went up a bit, he said, with Essentia’s speech language pathology services now being under the same roof.

Elliott sees additional opportunities at the rehab center.

“We’re going to see some growth in our services and our service lines here being a part of the Essentia system. We’ll be seeing some new therapies coming to our campus here.’’

The SpineX Program for treating back injuries/pain is just one example.

Elliott said SpineX was not within the Rehab Center’s budget to buy the equipment and house it. Having the support and backing of Essentia will allow more of those types of services to be brought to the community.

He said an actual start day for SpineX hasn’t been determined, but it will hopefully be by year’s end.

For new Campus Administrator Sam Stone, the transition will allow more services to stay in the local community.

“I think this was a long time coming. It feels like the industry is moving this way,’’ he said. “More than anything, it ensures the care that should stay in Virginia does stay in Virginia.’’

That starts with primary care, Stone said.

“You can’t have a robust rehab program without the access of primary care being local. That’s going to be a big focus over the years.’’

While there are no immediate plans for significant changes, Elliott said, “I think we’ll see expanded services as we grow together. That’s what I’m envisioning.’’

The merger and integration of rehab services into Essentia Health-Virginia assures community access and just brings two pieces together, Elliott added.

“We’ve been talking with Essentia Health for a little over a year now. We wanted to make sure that everything worked well.’’

Elliott also wanted to point out that the transition process was a positive one on both sides.

There were “no ongoing union contracts to meld, so that was probably helpful going forward, he added. “There was a union group, but their contract came up to an end about the same time as the merger took place.’’

Regarding patients, the same employees are in place to continue treatment that is already underway.

“The therapy will remain strong,’’ Elliott said, through an excellent and well-qualified staff.


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