Devils Lake City Commission votes to sign letter of intent for health care collaboration

At a regular meeting, commission members voted 4-1 to approve the letter and the city's involvement in the partnership with Altru Health System, Essentia Health and the Spirit Lake Tribe.

Devils Lake city office tower sign.jpg
The city offices of Devils Lake, N.D., are shown in this Grand Forks Herald photo from 2022.
Grand Forks Herald
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DEVILS LAKE – The Devils Lake City Commission voted to sign a letter of intent to collaborate with Altru Health System, Essentia Health and the Spirit Lake Nation on efforts that could someday lead to a new medical campus in Devils Lake.

Last week, Altru announced the four entities are working toward an agreement to collaborate in hopes of bringing a new medical campus to the city, where health care has been a topic of concern for the past year and a half. On Wednesday, Oct. 19, Altru, Essentia, the city of Devils Lake and Spirit Lake Nation plan to formally announce the proposed partnership at an event at Lake Region State College.

At a regular commission on Monday, Oct. 17, commissioners voted 4-1 to approve the letter and the city's involvement in the partnership, after hearing statements from Essentia West Market President Bill Heegaard, Altru CEO Todd Forkel, CHI St. Alexius Health in Devils Lake President Mariann Doeling and hospital employees.

Essentia owns land near Walmart in Devils Lake. Heegaard told the commission tha Essentia is excited about the prospect of delivering high-quality, integrated care to Devils Lake.

“It won’t be everything – we probably won’t be doing neurosurgery up here, but we are able to deliver high-quality care to citizens and the folks that need it in this region,” he said.


Forkel said he has not seen a partnership like the one being forged — one that involves four distinctly separate entities — during his 30-year career in health care.

“(We are) looking forward to that horizon of what can be accomplished,” he said.

At present, Altru operates a clinic in Devils Lake.

The community's hospital — CHI St. Alexius — is operated by another company. The current hospital is not included in the collaboration.

Doeling and other employees of CHI St. Alexius expressed their disapproval of the plan for the four entities to collaborate and the potential new medical campus that could come from the effort.

Doeling outlined some of the challenges faced in the emergency room at the current hospital, like the number of trauma patients, behavioral health patients and addiction patients served by the emergency facilities and staff. She also questioned the logistics of a collaborative model in addressing those concerns.

“I would be interested to see how that collaboration is also going to occur because that can create a huge strain on our health care system as well,” she said.

The letter of intent that will be signed on Wednesday is an agreement for the four entities to exclusively work with each other, City Administrator Spencer Halvorson said during the Monday evening meeting. Further work will be done to craft a development agreement and determine the financial terms of the collaboration.


In an interview with the Grand Forks Herald last week, Halvorson said the letter of intent “is publicly professing that we are going to all try to work together and collaborate to make a medical campus" in Devils Lake.

“It’s something that’s long in the making,” Halvorson said. "It’s something we’re really excited about.”

The proposal needed commission approval, however, before the city could be involved in the collaboration. Monday's 4-1 — Commissioner Shane Hamre voted against it — decision means the plan can proceed.

The event on Wednesday will be held at the Chautauqua Gallery at Lake Region State College, and will start at 10:30 a.m. Expected to attend are Forkel, Heegaard, Altru President Josh Deere, Essentia CEO David Herman, Spirit Lake Tribal Chairman Doug Yankton and Devils Lake Mayor Jim Moe.

Related Topics: DEVILS LAKE
Ingrid Harbo joined the Grand Forks Herald in September 2021.

Harbo covers Grand Forks region news, and also writes about business in Grand Forks and the surrounding area.

Readers can reach Harbo at 701-780-1124 or Follow her on Twitter @ingridaharbo.
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