Altru cuts procedures by 60% as hospital focuses on pandemic

Dr. Steven Weiser, president of Altru Health System, said general-elective procedure reductions and a decision to delay construction are needed to put the hospital's resources toward battling coronavirus in the region.

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Altru Health System has cut its general-elective procedures by approximately 60% during the opening weeks of the coronavirus pandemic in the region.

That action, coupled with the recent decision to delay the construction of a new hospital facility in Grand Forks, is necessary for Altru as it focuses its staff and resources on caring for patients and preserving staff health during the pandemic, the hospital’s president said Friday.

During a press conference presented live via the city’s website Friday, Dr. Steven Weiser said operations and procedures are down 60%.

“We have adjusted these in order to protect and preserve and basically be able to provide care as needed, as we’re uncertain as to the degree of influence this virus is going to have and the (number of) patients that will be affected, both in a region of 200,000-plus residents as well as the city itself,” he said.

He added: “The key emphasis of Altru Health System has and always will be the safety of our patients, staff and the community as we deal with this and other health care concerns on a daily basis.”


Friday was Weiser’s first appearance on the regular press conference, which the city has organized every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for two weeks since the pandemic reached the Dakotas and Minnesota. Weiser’s appearance came a day after the hospital announced it is putting its massive hospital construction on hold.

The project, to come with an estimated price tag of between $250 million to $300 million, officially began with a groundbreaking last summer and has soldiered on through a historic wet autumn and snowy winter. The project was updated late last year to reduce its total size and price tag – part of the hospital’s reaction to future health care trends – but then it was tweaked again, bringing it back closer to its original size, scope and plan.

Weiser said it doesn’t make sense to have a construction project muddy the hospital’s response to the pandemic.

“We have to significantly adjust our operations in order to be able to be prepared to mitigate the potential spread of this virus in our community,” he said. “Rest assured, we will have a new hospital for our region and it will be built and completed. But right now, our priority is the ability to be operational as a heath care system to be able to provide the proper care needed and the protection of our staff as we navigate through this uncertain time. … We have to target all of our resources to our ability to operate, provide safe care and have our employees looked after at the same time.”

He said that, as of Friday afternoon, he had not heard much feedback about the construction decision. Originally, the plan was to finish the new hospital in 2022; during the conference call, the Herald asked Weiser if he has any idea about a new timeline.

He noted that general-elective procedures make up a major portion of any hospital's revenue budget, and that Altru needs to resume that kind of revenue normalcy before it can make any decision to move forward on construction.

“What will really determine when we resume will be when this (pandemic) ends and how this ends and how long this pandemic is drawn out and preventing us from going back to our normal base of operations,” he said. "Once it does and ... we're resuming (normal) operations, that's probably a better time for us to give you a time picture."


Steven Weiser, MD, president of Altru Health System

Korrie Wenzel has been publisher of the Grand Forks Herald and Prairie Business Magazine since 2014.

Over time, he has been a board member of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp., Junior Achievement, the South Dakota Historical Society Foundation, United Way, Empire Arts Center, Cornerstones Career Learning Center and Crimestoppers.

As publisher, Wenzel oversees news, advertising and business operations at the Herald, as well as the newspaper's opinion content.

In the past, Wenzel was sports editor for 14 years at The Daily Republic of Mitchell, S.D., before becoming editor and, eventually, publisher.

Wenzel can be reached at 701-780-1103.
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