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Our view: A proposal with promise emerges in Devils Lake

A unique agreement could lead to big things in health care in Devils Lake.

Herald pull quote, 10/26/22
Herald graphic
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A unique agreement could lead to big things in health care in Devils Lake.

First announced nearly two weeks ago, it was approved last week between Altru Health System, Essentia Health, the Spirit Lake Nation and the city of Devils Lake. After the Devils Lake City Commission gave its approval on Monday, Oct. 17, the four groups came together two days later at Lake Region State College to make it official.

So far, it’s just a letter of intent that binds the entities in a promise to work together to improve health care in Devils Lake. Eventually, their hope is that it will lead to the development of a new health care campus in that community.

Devils Lake Mayor Jim Moe last week said the agreement means “we’re looking at having some very wonderful collaborative health care opportunities in the future.”

This is good news for residents of that region, where improvements are needed – at least according to some in the community, including Dick Johnson, the longtime mayor who recently retired from the office. Johnson, in his final months as mayor, became a vocal proponent of systemic change and health care improvement.

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Issues in care have “been going on for years and there haven’t been significant improvements to the situation at the hospital. In a community our size with 7,300 people, and the Spirit Lake Nation that probably has another 7,000 people, we need good health care,” he said.

He expressed concern at what he, at least at that time, considered deteriorating hospital conditions and a lack of cooperation between CommonSpirit Health, which owns CHI St. Alexius Devils Lake Hospital, and Grand Forks-based Altru Health System, which operates a clinic in Devils Lake.

Meanwhile, Essentia – a Duluth-based system with a large hospital in Fargo – has purchased land in Devils Lake. Altru, based in Grand Forks, publicly expressed interest in buying land there.

All of that – Johnson’s calls for improvement and the interest in land – led to the possibility of improvements in health care, but it also created an environment in which even more competitiveness, and less collaboration, would exist. That might not have truly improved care for residents of that region.

But now, the big players in this agreement – Altru and Essentia – have agreed to work together. Getting the city and the Spirit Lake Nation involved only adds to the collaboration and improvement that now seems imminent.

According to a report in the Herald, the parties are working toward a campus that will include a general acute care hospital within Devils Lake, to be developed on land owned by Essentia.

Essentia will develop a site plan for the health care campus, and the four parties will together create plans for the financing of infrastructure, construction and operation costs.

To us, it sounds like Devils Lake could use some competition in the local health care industry – but too much competition could water down the final result and spoil this opportunity.

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Bringing these four entities together is an idea with great promise and potential. Hopefully, it will lead to better health care in and around Devils Lake.

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