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Retired pediatrician continues commitment to children's health in Grand Forks

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Dr. Eric Lunn checks Brinley Martin's ear (19 mos.), during an exam at Spectra Health this week. Brinley's mom, Krista Martin looks on. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Kids are very important to Dr. Eric Lunn. You could say he’s dedicated his life to them.

The pediatrician, who has spent his entire professional career in Grand Forks, has served in several executive roles with Altru Health System, where he has practiced medicine for 32 years. He’s also served on the Grand Forks School Board for nearly 20 years and has taught confirmation at his church for 22 years.

In March, he retired as president and physician at Altru Health System, but soon discovered he missed seeing patients. On Oct. 7, he joined Spectra Health, a federally designated community health center in downtown Grand Forks.

“After I retired from Altru, I found out pretty quickly that I missed seeing the patients and taking care of kids — my life has revolved around kids,” he said. “I realized I missed it more than I thought.”

Continuing his practice at Spectra Health also presented “a unique opportunity for me at my stage in my career,” he said. “There are a lot of kids in Grand Forks — in spite of what we’ve done at Altru -- we’re still missing care for them.

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“Not to say that I don’t see children who don’t have those needs and have normal commercial insurance,” he said, “but that type of patient population -- new Americans and kids who are really struggling because of social issues and financial issues — that really attracted me.”

He is familiar with their backgrounds and circumstances, too, because some were referred to him as an Altru Clinic pediatrician.

Integrated health care

At Spectra Health, Lunn joins a team that includes nurse practitioners, physician assistants, a dentist, chiropractor, certified nurse midwife, social workers and counseling psychologists. An internist also provides consultation in gerontology and complex adult health matters.

“Spectra Health wants to redefine how health care is being delivered, and that’s one of the things that intrigued me," Lunn said.

Formerly called Valley Community Health Centers, Spectra Health has clinics in Grand Forks and Larimore, N.D. The name change aims to highlight the spectrum of services its staff provides.

“They really have an integrated model of medical, dental and behavioral health (services) — all in one building,” Lunn said. “That’s really intriguing. Everybody needs medical and dental, and a lot of people need behavioral health (services). And having it all in one building is really nice.”

He’s impressed with the focus on the well-being of the whole person and the factors that impact one’s quality of life, including health, social and financial needs, he said.

‘Timing was right’

Lunn’s retirement from Altru Health System in March -- publicly announced two weeks before it became effective -- may have appeared to be abrupt, but “it really wasn’t,” he said. “It had been in planning for several months.”

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“I had accomplished what I wanted to accomplish,” he said. “The timing was right for someone else to step in and finish that work.”

While serving as Altru president for five years, he practiced three partial afternoons a week, he said.

“I felt it was important for myself and for the president to be practicing," Lunn said.

Under his leadership, plans were developed to build a new hospital and other facilities on the system’s campus on South Columbia Road.

“It was a good time for me (to retire). I knew I wouldn’t be there in four years and finish that work,” he said. “I felt it was the right time for me. It was in the best interests of myself, but especially of Altru Health System.”

He was also looking forward to spending time with his adult children and seven grandchildren, he said.

Deeper understanding

During his term as president, he and his colleagues began to look at ways to reduce hospital readmissions of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

In their office practices, “doctors don’t see aspects of patients’ lives outside the medical setting,” said Lunn, noting that doctors don’t see the environment and conditions in which patients are living -- aspects that can cause illness and keep them from getting well.

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“We started doing home visits by family medicine residents (in training) and faculty, EMT (emergency medical technicians) and nurses,” he said.

What they learned was eye-opening.

“We were shocked by what we saw,” he said. “There are people in homes with no furniture; people who are eating half a can of beans a day because that’s what they can afford.

“You look at these conditions and you realize nobody could get well in those environments.”

These are aspects of patients’ lives that “we as providers don’t often understand,” he said.

On the home visits, Lunn and his colleagues met people who “don’t live with any means at all,” he said, “and we wondered how can we help them?”

The problem is tougher to solve because traditional insurance coverage and the government do not pay for much or most of that type of activity, Lunn said.

That insight and broadened perspective are part of what drew him to Spectra Health, he said.

The clinic is a “model” of what a federally qualified community health center should look like, said its CEO, Mara Jiran.

On average, Spectra Health accepts all insurances and has about 2,500 patient visits each month, said Jiran.

Its staff has developed a primary health care system that links seamlessly with other providers, Altru Hospital and private practitioners “to ensure that high-quality and affordable services are available to everyone in our community,” she said.

Staff members at Spectra Health are “extremely excited” to have Lunn on board, Jiran said.

“We are delighted to have him join the practice. One of the areas we’re excited about expanding is pediatrics," she said.

The clinics’ emphasis on “the whole-person health model is something we’re quite proud of,” she said.

For Lunn, “it’s a different kind of medicine,” she said. “It’s a different time and a different practice for him.”

Related Topics: HEALTH
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