Dori Carlson, OD, FAAO, and her husband Mark Helgeson, OD, FAAO, began their practice, Heartland Eye Care in Park River, North Dakota, 24 years ago. “We moved into a 1,900-square-foot space that we thought was huge. It had two exam rooms and a 10’ x 13’ pretest room for our visual field unit. We had so much space,” she says. Over the years, that pretest room became more and more cramped with the addition of more technology: Optos, an OCT and a Marco refraction system. Patients and staff often found themselves in a bottleneck in the room itself or the narrow hallway that led into it.
It was an inconvenience, but it didn’t make the days impossible. “We had philosophical discussions about whether ‘good enough’ was really ‘good enough.’ We could have ridden it out staying in that building for the rest of our careers,” she says. Park River is a town of about 1,400 residents; real estate values aren’t on the rise and moving is a pain in the neck. So there were plenty of reasons to stay put, on the one hand.
But Dr. Carlson and Dr. Helgeson love their town; it’s where they live and their sons went to school. And there’s some momentum happening in town: a dentist friend of theirs built a new office; a small, new development is coming in; the school system invested heavily in improvements; and a phone company has relocated. “We decided that it’s more than what we want; it was a chance to invest in the community,” she says.
It also happened that there was a perfect, 3,000-square-foot building shell available. A former funeral home-turned-event center had been vacant for some time. “It was very square, which is perfect for creating the kind of flow we wanted,” she says. It also provided them with the opportunity to invest in their community by hiring local craftsman.
The architect dismantled the traditional funeral home canopy at the front of the building and created a new entry with a vaulted ceiling. There were hardly any windows, but this new high entry lets in lot of daylight, Dr. Carlson says. The doctors worked with Eye Designs for optical dispensary displays and LED lighting to bring more great light into the space.
“We have a metalworks company in town, Kringstad Ironworks, that makes farming equipment. We asked if they would be willing to take on something more creative, so they made this cool sign behind the front, a sculpture that looks like North Dakota with a star where Park River is. Mark built a frame for it that looks like a barn door,” she says.
The space includes tables made from local Douglas fir; there are fireplaces for a cozy touch. And the high ceilings almost demanded the addition of a chandelier but every design they considered didn’t seem quite right. The doctors looked homeward for inspiration. They have a deer antler chandelier in their cabin and decided one in their big reception area would add whimsical, local flair.
They also decorated with artwork from local photographers, especially those who specialize in local attractions, such as the Northern Lights and old barns.
The practice opened in April, although exterior work on the building wasn’t finished until later; workers had to wait for the long North Dakota winter to end. “We have more room for us and the two associate doctors who work for us part time, and we have two pretest rooms,” she says. They’ve invested in the community—and patients have thanked them for it. They didn’t have to move. “Good enough” could have sufficed, but it just wasn’t “good enough” for them.