Altru is: community centric, talent-rich, adaptive to the moment—and—valuable in more ways than you know
As an independent, locally-owned hospital not part of a national conglomerate with a national office situated in a major metro, Altru Health Systems is a true pillar of the GRAND region. The health provider is for the community, by the community and in many cases, of the community. When Altru’s Director of Surgical Services, Jonathan Haug, a Grafton, North Dakota-native and graduate of the University of North Dakota’s med school, participates in a national convention to further his knowledge of hospital procedural strategies or anesthesia application, he’s doing so for his community and his employer—which as Haug and many of his colleagues explain—are one and the same. As Haug and his collegaues also reveal, the Altru community is infused with a unique and talented assemblage of leaders, medical experts, practitioners, professionals and service dogs (yes, even service dogs) that are beyond skilled and more than capable of supplying nearly any type of care needed in this region. Altru is not a special hospital, it is a community of specialists that could have gone anywhere but chose here. The result is a health system that we are all a part of, that we can all believe in and follow with the type of confidence you get knowing that the same talent treating you could be treating their friends and family during their next visit.
Caring For COVID When we first started talking for this story, COVID-19was just starting to inject itself into the national and regional dialogue. As you read this, you’ve already seen a major response by Altru to stand-up a COVID-19 hotline, testing protocol (revived as time passed), policy for visitors, daily and weekly press briefings (led by Josh Deere, another doctor with roots from the region), and several other response actions. In a sign of its true commitment to keeping the region safe and sound, Altru even paused the construction and work of its new, state-of-the-art hospital to keep its focus on ensuring its COVID-19 dealings went on uncompromised. Hopefully, as you read this, the situation here stayed as it was then, that Grand Forks and the surrounding region remained like Grand Forks and the surrounding region and didn’t mimic a place like New York City. From the nurses, to the doctors, to the therapy specialists, the answer to several COVID-19-related questions was the same. In a nutshell, they all went like this. Is the situation impacting your daily routine and job? Yes. Does the situation scare you or cause stress? How could it not. Have you ever thought about taking a break from your duties because of COVID-19? Never. Always Answering Don’t misinterpret local for lacking. According to Haug and Annie Bonzer, manager of marketing and communications, although the level of talent and full-circle care options at the hospital may somehow fly under the radar, the services are world-class. “We really are keeping up with the cutting-edge progression of patient care, in the clinics with virtual visits, in the inpatient setting and in procedural or surgical areas,” Haug says. The hospital has already become part of the Mayo Clinic’s care team, meaning that if Haug or others can’t find an answer to a patient issue, they can strategize and speak with other doctors from one of the nation’s leading health care organizations. The hospital has robots and now deploys a position known as a “hospitalist”, a doctor who’s only function is to care for patients in the inpatient setting. Altru’s joint replacement surgeries are near the top in the nation. In the cardiology department, the team now includes an electrophysiologist, a position Haug thought a hospital of Altru’s size would never have.
At every level it seems as if every Altru team member is committed to answers. “Sometimes if we can’t provide the care, then we can help find other answers,” says Laura Lukkason, a registered nurse that works on the general surgical floor.
Brittany Johnson, a physical therapist, says her team is constantly communicating. “It is not just one occupation that is running the show or making the calls on patients,” she says. “We do entire staffing meetings on the patients to ensure we have the answers we need.” Recruiting For The Future Haug has led several efforts in recruiting new surgeons and forming a team that can thrive. A furniture builder and cross-country skier in his off days, Haug says the community aspect of Altru has helped him and others find a great work-life balance that makes wearing the Altru badge more than worth it. The community nature of Altru also helps bring in talent. In Grand Forks, it is easy to have a voice and make a difference, Haug says. “I just think that being a part of a community this size and being a part of a team is a lot more satisfying than being a part of a hospital much larger with red tape,” he says. “That is a selling point. We are locally owned and run, and we all can have a voice.”
Lukkason knows exactly what Haug means. A native of the area and graduate of Northland Technical Community College, she returned to Altru after a nursing stint in Mitchell, South Dakota. Since her return, she was part of a committee that decided what the floors and layout of the new hospital would look like.
Everything For The Patient After procedures, Altru has an impressive team of specialists to provide unique and crucial care options. Laurel and Brita are a pet therapy team that provide joy and comfort to a wide range of Altru guests from patients to those in waiting rooms. Brita is a giant schnauzer born in 2011. She provides positive interactions that help improve emotional, mental and social responses. She loves attention and will induce a positive emotional response whether you want to let it happen or not.
Mark Ellingson, manager of pastoral care, helps with the emotional health of Altru’s patients and employees. “We don’t have an agenda, we just work with people,” he says. “We try to create a connection.” Ellingson’s day could take him all over the hospital, but no matter where he goes or to whom he talks with he says it usually ends up the same way. “When we listen to people they usually come up with the answers to their own questions.” G
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From Issue 2, 2020
PHOTOS BY: Manstrom Photography