Most of the headlines generated by Altru Health System over the past two years probably won’t find their way into the company scrapbook.

There was news of the health care provider’s on-and-off construction project that had been delayed and scaled back, the firing of two of its top executives, the sudden death of its board chairman, months of stress associated with the pandemic and numerous layoffs that came during the 2020 financial slowdown.

Lately, though, there’s a different vibe coming from Altru – one of hope, optimism and, especially, community inclusion.

In a meeting this week with the Grand Forks Herald’s editorial board, hospital administrators laid out their plans to not only restart Altru’s construction project, but also to actually expand it to its original scope and size after the project was downsized during the pandemic.

In addition, they discussed the hospital’s interest in some sort of expansion into Devils Lake, where the future of health care has come into question.

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And they spoke of being transparent, of wanting to be held to a higher standard of accountability and even of celebrating the good things that are happening lately at Altru Health System.

“Altru Health System has been here 120-plus years. We aren’t going anywhere,” Altru President Dr. Steven Weiser said. “We had a challenging year last year. We’ve proven beyond mettle that not only do we know how to manage a pandemic in a community, but we know how to right our ship. Our ship is sailing with a full mast, and we’re excited about where we’re going. We’re happy to be fully transparent and share this discussion, and it’s interesting how transparency gets you a lot of heat, but it’s also great when transparency gets you a discussion at the table to share our vision, which is what we want.”

Altru’s vision?

“We want people to choose Altru Health System because they can be confident they will get the best care here that they could get anywhere,” said Dave Molmen, Altru’s interim CEO. “It’s always a climb to get there, but that’s where we’re headed.”

Health care is changing, and not just the care we receive when we’re sick. Providers today can’t sit back and rely on any sort of community or regional loyalty. Consumers have choices and competition among providers – even if they downplay it – is growing more fierce. Someone needing, say, a joint replacement can easily drive to another city for that service, and they will if they feel better care is available somewhere else. Health consumers today are, essentially, shoppers.

Hospitals, therefore, must market, tout and boast their services. It wasn’t like that in the past, but it is today.

So Altru’s apparent new approach is refreshing – not just for the care a healthy hospital can provide to the community, but also for its potential to be an economic driver for the community.

More than 3,600 people work at Altru. And as the city’s traditional tourism draws – specifically shopping – have decreased in recent years, the hospital can help keep the city as a destination for the region.

Of course, it first requires quality care and a strong reputation. After that, it requires an interest in touting services. It also requires acknowledgement that the community – whether it’s the newspaper, health care consumers or just the residents of Greater Grand Forks and the region – are going to be critical of an institution that is of such incredible importance to our well-being and our economy.

Weiser touched on that during the editorial board meeting.

“I feel this in my heart: This is our community health system. All right? Ours. Everybody (in the community) owns it and owns a say, owns us to be accountable to make sure we get the right people here and that we provide great care,” he said. “And when we fall short, you call us on the carpet and we address those things and fix it going forward.”

The last two years have, without doubt, been difficult for Altru. But with the construction project back on (and expanded) and with talks lately turning to progress rather than stress and cuts, something feels different. And now is the time to plant the flag and brag a bit.

“Our approach going forward is going to hopefully allow the community to connect to the services that are available and also understand what a community health system delivers to the community,” said Molmen. “I don’t know if we’ll ever be boastful, but we certainly have grasped the importance of having an informed community so that the community can understand the services that are available here and can be available here and what are the opportunities to work together for improved health.”

Weiser said it’s a matter of “championing what we’re doing here.”

That’s a good idea. The community needs that.