The largest health care provider in the region is starting a random drug and alcohol testing policy for all employees, company officials said Tuesday.

Altru Health System in Grand Forks will implement the new policy Sept. 1.

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The policy covers all staff, including doctors, nurses, office staff and support personnel at facilities in Grand Forks and in the region. That's about 4,000 workers, including nearly 200 physicians.

"Unfortunately, chemical dependency among health care workers is a serious national issue," Dave Molmen, Altru's chief executive officer, said in a news release. "Because of the nature of our jobs -- caring for our community -- no amount of chemical or substance abuse is acceptable. Utilizing a random testing process will help provide reassurance to our patients and community that Altru offers the safest environment for trustworthy care."

Altru has long administered a drug and alcohol test for new employees. It also conducts tests after an accident in the workplace, if applicable, or if there are suspicions raised about an employee through the proper channels, Diane Hageman, Altru's manager of occupational health and medicine and employee health services, said in an interview with the Herald.

Now, each month a computer will select a random list of employees for testing. The number of employees selected also will vary. "That's how a random system works," Hageman said. "It is all luck of the draw."

Employees are covered through federal confidentiality laws, officials said. If an employee tests positive, there will be an evaluation of the case, said Dr. Paul Fleissner, a physician in occupational medicine and a medical review officer.

A medical review officer makes the determination of a positive or negative test. There may be a legitimate reason a substance is found in an employee's urine, he said. If there isn't, the case will be turned over to the Human Resources department.

Fleissner said random drug testing is on the rise in the health care industry, a trend that mirrors the continued rise of prescription drug abuse among the general public.

"Unfortunately, the most abused drugs in the county are prescription drugs," he said.

Hageman said there are added costs to the extra testing, but said Altru officials believe it's an acceptable cost of doing business.

"I've heard nothing but positive comments from other employees," she said.

In addition to its Grand Forks facilities, Altru Health System has more than a dozen clinics in the region.

Reach Cory at (701) 780-1244; (800) 477-6572, ext. 244; or send e-mail to