May 22, 2024
Health-care systems are making a difference – Grand Forks Herald

“Health care has a deep purpose that has a calling, whether you’re in patient care or nonpatient care. Making a difference for those we serve is foundational to what health care is,” said Todd Forkel, CEO of Altru Health System, based in Grand Forks.

Forkel was talking to Prairie Business about the new mission, vision and set of values Altru announced at the start of 2024. Altru’s new mission statement is “Making a difference for those we care for.”

The other big news from Altru is the new hospital, slated for new patients in January 2025.

Altru isn’t the only health-care organization in the region with big news. Jamestown Regional Medical Center has launched a women’s health walk-in clinic. Sanford Health is building a new digestive health facility in Sioux Falls. Essentia Health has opened a new clinic in Lisbon.

Prairie Business reached out to the leaders of our region’s health-care systems to talk about their latest advancements, additions and facilities. Here’s the roundup:

Altru Health System

In about six months, administrators at Altru Health System will be handed over the keys, so to speak, to the company’s new $475 million hospital. The 528,000-square-foot facility in Grand Forks was designed by JLG Architects.

“Oct. 1 it will be handed over to us and we will take the months of October, November and December to install new technology, training of staff, those types of things,” Forkel said. “The first patients will be mid-January 2025 and we’re very excited for that.”

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Todd Forkel, CEO of Altru Health System is photographed in the new hospital, Thursday, April 11, 2024.

Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald


new medical facility

replaces the current hospital, built in 1971. Forkel said some of the key attributes the staff is excited about include lots of natural light throughout the building – something lacking in the current hospital.

“The amount of natural light that is present is just exponentially more than we currently have,” he said. “It’s beneficial not only for our patients and their family members, but for our staff.”

A unique design feature is the surgical platform located on the second floor. It includes a staff-only accessible corridor that allows employees to take a break, see the outdoors and enjoy natural sunlight. It’s part of the company’s efforts to give the staff the best facility in which to work, Forkel said.

Although the new seven-story hospital is only slightly larger than the current building, it feels much bigger because it’s designed for efficient flow, he explained.

“It’s designed with a futuristic look at modern medicine around technology, but also the fact that the patient experience plays such a role in what you might be here for in terms of your care process,” Forkel said. “We really believe that it is not only high-tech but high-touch in the spaces that are there for those we serve.”

A new inpatient behavioral health facility is also being constructed at the same time, just to the east of the hospital. This new facility will expand the behavioral health services currently offered, from 16 beds to 24. Forkel said construction will then start on an additional 24-bed space so that eventually, Altru will have tripled its capacity for inpatient behavioral health.

“Today we know there is a lot of demand for those services and this is one of those ways we can grow our own services to meet that demand,” Forkel said.

With the new hospital’s impending opening, Altru’s leadership determined it was time to rethink and modernize the company’s mission, vision and values.

“Our vision statement was the most exciting for me. It’s who you aspire to be. I love the concept of never being satisfied with what we’re doing,” Forkel said. “We may be great at what we’re doing, but how do we get 1% better at whatever we are working on? That really motivates me as part of any organization to have that guiding north star that we’re always going to be working at getting better at what we do.”

Essentia Health

Three of Essentia Health’s hospitals have earned a five-star rating from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the highest possible score. Essentia Health-Fargo, Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Medical Center and Essentia Health-Duluth are among the most highly-ranked hospitals in the nation.

Hospitals are scored on criteria including mortality rates, readmissions, patient experience, post-op and timely care.

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Dr. Richard Vetter, chief medical officer at Essentia Health, Fargo.

/ Courtesy Jeff Frey

“All the things we want to be known for. It’s a great recognition for our staff who are really accomplishing great things. We are fortunate to work with so many excellent clinicians whose commitment to our mission and values is exhibited every day,” said Dr. Richard Vetter, chief medical officer. “We extend our heartfelt gratitude to them for sharing their calling to care for our patients and our communities while making a healthy difference in people’s lives.”

Essentia Health’s Fargo hospital is the only designated baby-friendly hospital in the area, he said. The designation highlights maternal and baby care particularly in regards to breastfeeding.

“We were recertified this past year. It’s a testament to our nursing staff and OB/GYN staff in the hospital who provide excellent care for our patients,” he said.

In August 2023, Essentia opened a new 6,000-square-foot clinic in Lisbon.

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Essentia Health leaders and staff celebrate at the grand opening of the Lisbon clinic in August 2023.

/ Courtesy Essentia Health

“We’ve been in the Lisbon community since 2008 with a clinic. We were able to upgrade that. It is about three times bigger than our previous clinic. It allows us to have telehealth capability in every room. It also allowed us to expand our lab and radiology areas to provide more of that care in the community. We’re very excited for the Lisbon community and surrounding area,” Vetter said.

One piece of technology Essentia has implemented recently is called


, allowing prescription labels to be read aloud for patients.

“It’s a pharmacy-based text-to-speech technology that our pharmacists can put on somebody’s pill bottle, so if somebody has difficulty reading (vision), they can scan it with their smartphone or a device that will read aloud the medication and directions on how to take it. That’s something we rolled out recently that we think is a real value-add to those patients who have difficulty reading those small labels or understanding the labels,” Vetter said.

Robot-assisted surgeries are also taking place within the Essentia Health system. The Fargo hospital has two da Vinci Xi Surgical Systems, and most recently the St. Mary’s-Detroit Lakes facility is now using one. The Xi will be used during gynecologic, colorectal and general surgery procedures, including hysterectomies, resection of endometriosis and ovarian cysts, colon surgery, laparoscopic hernia repair and gallbladder surgery.

“The surgery is a little bit harder for the surgeon but easier for the patient. The patient recovers much quicker, has less pain, less bleeding and there’s less risk of infections. Patients have shorter hospital stays and get home much quicker,” Vetter said.

Jamestown Regional Medical Center

A Women’s Walk-in Clinic was created in January at Jamestown Regional Medical Center. It was created to help patients with female concerns who aren’t able to quickly get an appointment with their regular health-care provider. Walk-in care includes diagnosis and treatment for female health concerns including UTIs, sudden onset uterine pain, STD testing, breast pain and IUD checks, among others.

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Trisha Jungels, chief nursing officer at Jamestown Regional Medical Center.

/ Courtesy Jamestown Regional Medical Center

Trisha Jungels, chief nursing officer at JRMC, said the new walk-in clinic has helped shift some of those patients who would have had to visit the ER or urgent care, which use higher level resources.

“We’ve been able to help people who maybe have lived with something for a while but realized they need a surgical intervention,” she said.

The idea for the women’s walk-in clinic came from the OB/GYN staff as they considered how to best serve the community.

“Women need access to this care. As a woman, I don’t need a referral, I can just go,” she said.

Lactation counseling is another recent offering JMRC features as part of its women’s service lines. It’s available to any woman who is struggling with breastfeeding, whether they delivered their baby there or elsewhere.

“We’re able to help mom with that hard, dedicated work and help navigate the difficult journey. It’s a great support for women,” Jungels said.

Mike Delfs, CEO and president of JRMC, said a variety of specialties are offered at the facility, and patients can access specialists without referrals.

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Mike Delfs, CEO and president of Jamestown Regional Medical Center.

/ Courtesy Jamestown Regional Medical Center

“We’re about removing roadblocks to make that happen. It’s highly unusual,” Delfs said. “If a patient believes they need to see a specialist, they can make an appointment.”

JRMC is an independent hospital, which allows administrators to be agile and flexible if changes are needed, Delfs explained.

“We can be very responsive to community needs. We like the fact we’re independent and will partner with anyone and everyone to bring in those services, be it a large health system or small systems,” he said.

The No Excuses Program was created after it was determined the community was not being served well in the area of mammography screenings. JRMC works with Central Valley Health and Women’s Way to ensure there are no barriers to access.

After area dentists reached out to the hospital for help with anesthetized pediatric dentistry, JRMC partnered with Prairie Rose Family Dentists to assist in those situations.

JRMC won a 2024 Best Hospital Award from Women’s Choice for obstetrics, which puts it in the top 8.5% of hospitals in the nation. Considerations include how patients are treated, the quality of early delivery rates, best practices in eliminating early elective deliveries, and others.

“Those awards are independent, we don’t apply for them,” Delfs said. “It’s indicative of the organization doing a good job.”

“JRMC is on a journey to excellence,” Jungels said. “The nursing clinical team is working towards achieving a Pathway to Excellence designation through the American Nurses Association. It’s a designation given to organizations that can attest to providing a positive working environment for nurses. If we achieve it, we would be first in North Dakota.”

That application process begins in 2025.

Sanford Health

Sanford Health’s new Center for Digestive Health in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, will be completed this summer. The 45,000-square-foot building, which includes a four-story parking ramp, will add additional space to a growing area of care and will also include a

GI fellowship program

, the first of its kind in the Dakotas. The intent is to train gastroenterology providers there with the hope they will remain in the region.


Dr. Jeffrey Murray, chief of staff at Sanford USD Medical Center and medical director at the Sanford Center for Digestive Health.

/ Courtesy Sanford Health

“This is something that’s been realized for a while. We know that by 2025, we’re going to be short 1,600 gastroenterologists in this nation,” said Dr. Jeffrey Murray. “We also know with the screening rate being dropped to age 45, which just happened in 2021 with the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force data, we know that allowed 19 million more average risk Americans that needed to be screened.”

Murray, chief of staff at Sanford USD Medical Center and clinical professor at the Sanford USD School of Medicine, is also the medical director at the Sanford Center for Digestive Health.

The GI fellowship is designed so that by the physician’s third year in the program, they will be functioning as an independent gastroenterologist, Murray explained. They will also help instruct first- and second-year fellows and see patients of their own. The space created for this program will include a dedicated workspace for students as well as an endoscopic simulation space for trainees to learn endoscopic techniques.


Kris Denevan, executive director of Facilities and Support Services at Sanford Health.

/ Courtesy Sanford Health

Kris Denevan, executive director of Facilities and Support Services at Sanford Health, said the benefits relating to patient experience of the new facility are that the GI clinic and the procedural space are all located together in one setting.

“Today if they go see Dr. Murray in the clinic they go to one building, and if they need a procedure they go to another building,” she said. “We’re improving the wayfinding and ease on the patients to come and see their provider in one setting, whether that be a clinic visit or a procedure.”

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Sanford Health’s new Center for Digestive Health in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, will be completed this summer.

/ Courtesy Sanford Health

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