Aaron Hammer – Gundersen St. Joseph’s Hospital & Clinics
You can probably count on one hand the number of people who enjoy going to the hospital. But that doesn’t mean visiting the doctor or ending up in the hospital has to be an unpleasant experience. In fact, there are many things health care organizations can do to ensure that the patient receives the best care and the best treatment possible while at their clinic appointment or during their hospital stay.
Continuously improving the patient experience is part of Aaron Hammer’s role as facility operations manager for Gundersen St. Joseph’s Hospital & Clinics in Hillsboro, Wisconsin.
“Our mission is to serve our local communities and deliver the best quality of care possible,” Hammer tells Blueprint. “That means looking for ways to expand and improve our services.”
Gundersen St. Joseph’s Hospital is a critical access hospital that provides primary, emergency, and specialty care and surgery to residents in Hillsboro, Elroy, Wonewoc, La Farge, La Valle and surrounding communities in Wisconsin.
Hammer, a seasoned veteran in the health care industry, is using his passion for improving the quality of care and sustainability of operations as the organization embarks on a plan to bring more care to more people in the community.
More care for more patients
The Gundersen St. Joseph’s Elroy Clinic is a 9,000-square-foot rural health clinic scheduled to open in January. Designed to offer preventative care, chiropractic care and midwifery, the clinic will have 10 exam rooms, a lab, a procedure room and an office space for behavioral health visits. The new clinic will also have a community space and a telepharmacy, a first for the Gundersen Health System.
“This is going to be a big deal to our patients and the community,” Hammer says. “We’re excited about the partnership with our local Peterson Pharmacy and the impact it will have.”
This permanent telepharmacy location will allow patients to receive prescriptions remotely and interact with pharmacists through secure video consultations. The innovative approach to health care delivery will ensure convenient access to medications and expert advice for the local community, Hammer says.
A unique challenge about the Elroy project is the location. The project is being done in the heart of the city’s downtown. However, there have been issues with contaminated soils from the service station that previously occupied the land, and the city had to relocate municipal utilities and erect an 18-foot-tall retaining wall to make the site buildable.
“A common problem in rural America is the shrinking Main Streets in small towns,” Hammer laments. “We are hopeful the Elroy Clinic will be an economic spark to the community.”
The decision to build the clinic in the downtown was strategic, Hammer says. The organization hopes it will lead to an economic recovery, bring more businesses and jobs to the town and help Gundersen Health address the community’s economic and physical health.
Caring for the community
Efficiency and sustainability were also key considerations in plans for both the Elroy Clinic and Hillsboro Hospital. To eventually achieve net-zero energy consumption, the Elroy Clinic will incorporate solar panels, geothermal heating and cooling, heat recovery and high-efficiency equipment. Although battery storage was not initially implemented, the building was designed to accommodate future additions for power storage. Lighting controls, system setpoints and occupancy setbacks were also optimized to maximize energy efficiency.
This commitment to sustainable operations also extended to the Hillsboro Hospital, with the addition of solar panels and carefully scheduled air handler programming resulting in significant annual savings of $60,000.
Hammer and his team’s dedication to the community extended beyond the physical construction of the Elroy clinic. They actively seek ways to make healthcare more accessible and convenient for the residents—one example was the implementation of drive-through flu shot clinics. These clinics—held each fall in Hillsboro, Elroy and Wonewoc—not only provided a convenient way for the community to access flu shots but also showcased the team’s innovative thinking and commitment to meeting community needs.
With the inclusion of a community room in the Elroy Clinic, Hammer says there are plans to host blood drives and health fairs, further demonstrating Gundersen St. Joseph’s commitment to caring for the community.
In addition to their focus on outpatient care, Hammer and his team also prioritize inpatient services. The swing bed program, aimed at bringing patients closer to home while freeing up beds for critical care at tertiary hospitals, has been highly successful, he says.
“With patient rooms offering views of the lake, we’re providing a therapeutic environment for their patients,” Hammer says. “The dedicated nursing staff, supported by physical therapy, environmental services, and a kitchen staff committed to providing the best possible experience, ensure that patients receive top-quality care during their stay.”
A passion for helping others
Despite having the last name of Hammer, working in facilities management wasn’t a foregone conclusion. But Hammer does remember visiting his grandfather after school as a child and admiring an award he received when he retired from the Gundersen St. Joseph’s facilities department.
“I am proud to be carrying on the family tradition of bringing quality patient care in a comfortable environment to Wisconsinites around the state,” Hammer says.
After growing up on a farm, Hammer used the skills he learned as he studied agricultural business at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.
After college, Hammer worked for five years for a John Deere equipment dealership—he ran a small location in Reedsburg, Wisconsin.
Hammer joined Gundersen St. Joseph’s in September 2017, and he says he is excited about the Elroy Clinic and the new oncology services the organization is adding to their hospital in Hillsboro in 2024.
“We have experienced tremendous growth since we opened the doors to our new hospital facility in 2020,” Hammer says with pride. “We’re always looking at new services to better provide for our communities and patients.”
View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. I 2024 Edition here.
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