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Altru and JLG hold public forum for new hospital

Altru Health System and JLG Architects, whom Altru hired to design its new hospital this winter, held their first public forum for community feedback Tuesday night in Grand Forks.

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Altru Health System and JLG Architects, whom Altru hired to design its new hospital this winter, held their first public forum for community feedback Tuesday night in Grand Forks.

Jonathan Holth, community and client development manager for JLG, said the groups already have some "high level" blueprints for the new facility and now is the time to pursue public feedback through forums, surveys and focus groups.

"Because it's really important, when the shovels hit the ground, the community feels like this is their hospital," Holth said.

Altru hopes to begin construction this winter, after the city relocates a storm sewer main in November. "I think you'll see in coming weeks this will be moving pretty fast," Holth said of the project. Within the next couple of months, he wants to have a second public forum at a larger venue to accomodate more community members.

The public forum Tuesday night, which took place at the 701 Coworking Space downtown, had table stations set up where JLG and Altru staffers sat and asked passing participants questions about different principles Altru wishes to incorporate in its construction, including "experience" and "efficiency."

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At a table marked "identity," Chief People Officer Kellee Fisk for Altru said she received feedback on the company's image and how a new facility can improve that. Fisk said the new hospital will likely incorporate state imagery to connect with proud North Dakotans. "The land, the wheat, the sunflowers ... how does all that enter into the kind of stones we use, the colors we use?"

Across the room, Altru Foundation board member Karen Thingelstad was present to show her support for the project and community involvement. The Altru Foundation raises money for "above and beyond" service, Thingelstad said, which most hospitals don't provide for patients. One service Thingelstad listed as an example was providing gas cards and hotel stays to patients undergoing cancer treatment.

Though none of the reconstruction this winter is directed toward the foundation, Thingelstad said increasing community involvement will increase community awareness for what she and other board members do and their resources to help people.

"The better the hospital does, the more people come in," she said. "Then they know more about the foundation, which allows us to get more money and help more people."

Standing closer to the entrance, Altru Chief Operating Officer Brad Wehe greeted community members entering and leaving the forum. Wehe will take over as CEO Jan. 1, near the time Altru expects to start construction.

The current hospital is old, Wehe conceded-it was a clinic collapse in 2016, he said, that pushed Altru to pursue this project as the second phase of its 25-year plan. But Wehe said he's more interested in improving the experience of anyone involved with the hospital.

"Our goal is to have multiple venues and opportunities to engage with the community," Wehe said. "We're just really excited to get the community's opinion."

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