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Self-taught 'techie' Jim Rieber guides technology for hospital, school

Jim Rieber, in one of the control rooms at Perham Memorial Hospital. From this location, video cameras situated at seven different parts of the medical center complex can be monitored. Similar security systems were installed at both PMHH and at the Perham school facilities. There's even more technology in store for the new hospital, which is under construction now and is expected to open in 2011.

The job description was fairly simple and clear-cut when Jim Rieber came to Perham in 1996: Run the ambulance service.

Now, he has the convoluted title of Director of Information Systems and Emergency Services-with an equally complicated job description.

"When I came here nobody was really assigned to technology," said Rieber, a Sabin, Minnesota, area native who has been a very visible Perham resident, not only at emergency scenes, but also on the Perham School Board. In his multi-faceted work, he also serves as a liaison to the city of Perham and its police and fire departments. As a school board member and current chairman, he also finds himself as a frequent technology advisor and as the school's emergency services connection.

There was one computer system at the hospital in 1996, with ten terminals. Today, there are 13 computer servers; 400 computers and related devices: and another 444 telephones and telecommunications devices.

Telecommunications cable and wire at the medical facilities are measured not in feet or yards-but miles. There are 12.2 miles of phone wire; 17.8 miles of data wire; and 3.6 miles of fiber optic cable.

Describing himself as a "self-taught techie," Rieber gained much of his early exposure to computer networks and systems when he managed truck stops. Later, he was a fireman with the Fargo Municipal Fire Department-where he gained further experience with computers and technology.

With Rieber's multiple assignments, he also finds himself working out of multiple offices. Five of them. He is partially housed in two separate hospital offices; two separate offices at the law enforcement center; and yet another office setup in his home.

The Perham hospital's present technology-combined with enhancements planned with the new project-will create a state-of-the-art medical center.

"We're probably already way ahead of most facilities our size already. We've had phenomenal support from the hospital board and the management team," said Rieber.

With the construction of a new hospital, there will even be more advancements-especially with regard to patient safety.

A computer in each patient room is now in place, and will be transferred to the new facility, said Rieber.

"This enables the nurses to make all of the entries right there in the room," he said. Though the front-end cost of adding the technology is high, the return on investment is more long term by gaining efficiencies and aiding the staff in doing more, added Rieber.

"Theoretically, it should ultimately reduce health care costs (to the consumer). It allows us to provide more services and accumulate information that providers can access with their fingertips."

For the PMHH home health care operations, technology and new software will enable staff to come to a patient's home with a laptop computer-with information always up-to-date, said Rieber.