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Billings Clinic receives $12 million grant for trauma and complex care

Billings Clinic Flyer
Posted at 5:14 PM, Apr 25, 2024

The Billings Clinic Foundation received a $12 million grant Thursday, which will be used to enhance the hospital's trauma and complex care.

The grant was given by the Helmsley Charitable Trust, which seeks to help hospitals in rural communities offer services closer to home. The grant will give the clinic the ability to build Montana's first dedicated Surgical Intensive Care Unit.

It is the largest all-cash donation the hospital has received, and Foundation President Jim Duncan said it's almost too good to be true.

"Today is one of those days that you really step back and say, 'I can't believe this is happening,'" Duncan said following a Thursday press conference at the hospital.

Many attended the announcement, including employees and even former patients. Ellen Edlund qualifies as both — she's a current employee who had a life-threatening battle with COVID-19. She underwent lengthy intensive care, the kind that hospital officials say the grant will help provide for more patients.

"I was so scared when I came in and I couldn't breathe," Edlund recalled of her sickness Thursday. "When the doctor told me they were going to have to put me on the ventilator, I just remember crying and saying, 'Am I going to die?'"

The conditions were dire for Edlund, who was put on life support technology called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), which is for critically ill patients whose heart and lungs can't perform normal functions.

"When they put me on ECMO, they told my family I likely would not survive," Edlund said.

But thankfully, Billings Clinic is the first ECMO provider in Montana. Typically, receiving that care would've meant Edlund being transferred elsewhere. The hospital nurses — her coworkers — refused to let her leave.

"They talked to my family about sending me either to Denver or Seattle, and the nurses heard about it and they said, 'No. She's ours,'" Edlund said. "They picked up extra shifts and did whatever they could to help me. When I woke up, I was met by my loving friends."

Edlund managed to make a full recovery, something she is grateful for every day.

"Not only did I survive, but I'm not on oxygen," Edlund said. "I can do the things I love like skiing and hiking. It's all because of the great care and ECMO."

The grant Billings Clinic received Thursday aims to make it easier for the hospital to help patients like Edlund. Helmsley Charitable Trustee Walter Panzirer said helping hospitals like the Billings Clinic is exactly what they strive to do.

"I'm a firm believer that it doesn't matter where you live, and that access to healthcare should be equitable and of the highest quality," Panzirer said. "Now, we have enough bed capacity here in Billings to take care of the patients."

Patients just like Edlund, who needed the service to stay alive, and who now gets to watch its impact on others every day.

"It makes me tear up," Edlund said. "I'm so proud of what the Clinic has done."