Casey Ryan: What has Altru meant to you?

Casey Ryan

You don’t know what you have until you lose it. We’re in a time where we have lost a lot and it is uncertain what we will recover. COVID-19 has caused so much loss and ongoing stress. As I acknowledge this, it feels appropriate to reflect on the history of health care in Grand Forks. It’s a tale of partnership and community support, one that should continue to be written.

In the early 1970s Grand Forks Clinic physicians had a vision for care in our region. The 22 physicians purchased land on the outskirts of Grand Forks, donated land to the hospital and helped community leaders bring Deaconess and St. Michael's Hospitals together. United Hospital was then built in 1976 as the cornerstone of Medical Park. It was a concept ahead of its time in medicine – “working together.” In 1997 United Hospital and Grand Forks Clinic merged to become Altru Health System. Again, visionary, ahead of its time and “working together.”

Today Altru has over 250 providers delivering state-of-the-art health care across the region. With the mentality of working together that’s woven into the culture, Altru has partnered across the region with a focus on delivering world-class care, close to home. Patients in rural communities have options to remain closer to home for care than in many other rural states.

As the years have passed, Altru has become an economic engine for the region. A drive down South Columbia Road shows the enormous change and impact of this health system. What once sat on the outskirts of town, Altru now centers the community and lives within one of its busiest corridors. Together, Altru and Grand Forks have grown and have thrived, even when times are tough.

As a practicing physician with my days in leadership behind me, I’ve watched how Dr. Steven Weiser, Altru’s president, and other leaders have managed through this pandemic we face. They geared up to care for the potential onslaught of COVID patients. Providers and nurses marched to the front lines, readying themselves for the care of an unknown evil. Elective surgeries were canceled, and clinic appointments postponed as resources were swiftly shifted to focus on the pandemic. As it stands today, the onslaught of inpatients has thankfully not happened, and the operations are slowly and cautiously shifting back to normal. The unfortunate thing about dropping everything to provide the safest care in uncertain times is the economic impact. In addition to the halt of procedures and regular appointments, patients are reluctant to come in for other health issues. This is not good for their health, or the financial health of Altru.


So as we look ahead, I encourage you to ask yourself – what has Altru meant to you? To our community? We have local control with locally based leadership. We have a physician-led system, which means care always comes first in decision-making. We have a strong relationship with Mayo Clinic that has a direct benefit to our patients at no additional cost to them. Many beloved Grand Forks amenities may not exist without Altru’s support. Think about Choice Health and Fitness, the Altru Family YMCA, UND’s High Performance Center, our new bike share program, Safe Kids Grand Forks and so many more. Did you know Altru donates $50 to every after-prom party they are asked for – making sure there’s a safe option for kids? That’s important to this community health system.

Altru has supported this community for years, and now they need our community’s support. It’s imperative to who we are as a community to maintain our own health system. To keep the decisions local and to give the physicians a say in how things are done. Without these key

characteristics, the care you receive is a lot less personal. It’s a lot less community-based. It’s a lot less “Grand Forks.” I want my neighbors thinking about how I’ll receive health care, not someone in another state.

As we unwind from this pandemic, let’s keep working together to support our economy. Let’s focus on those businesses and institutions who are here, who have been here, whose owners, leaders and decision-makers live here. To come out of this strong, we must remain locally-led.

Dr. Casey Ryan, endocrinology/internal medicine, Altru Health System and former president of Altru Health System.

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