Altru, Essentia, Spirit Lake Nation and city of Devils Lake on verge of new health care collaboration

The four entities on Wednesday will officially announce a proposed partnership that seeks to "work toward the development of a new, state-of-the-art medical campus in Devils Lake."

Devils Lake city office tower sign.jpg
The city offices of Devils Lake, N.D., are shown in this Grand Forks Herald photo from 2022.
Grand Forks Herald
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DEVILS LAKE — Altru Health System, Essentia Health, the city of Devils Lake and the Spirit Lake Nation are on the verge of an agreement to collaborate and work together in hopes of bringing a new medical campus to Devils Lake.

News of the agreement between the four entities came in a release Friday afternoon from Altru, the Grand Forks-based system that maintains a clinic in Devils Lake, 90 miles west of Grand Forks.

The press release alerted the media about an event to be held Wednesday “announcing a proposed partnership” between the entities as they collaborate on a medical campus to “serve individuals throughout the Lake Region with expert, comprehensive and compassionate care.”

The event will start at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 19, and will be held at the Chautauqua Gallery at Lake Region State College. Expected to attend are Altru CEO Todd Forkel, Altru President Josh Deere, Essentia CEO David Herman, Essentia West Market President Bill Heegaard, Spirit Lake Tribal Chairman Doug Yankton and Devils Lake Mayor Jim Moe.

“It’s something that’s long in the making,” Devils Lake City Administrator Spencer Halvorson told the Herald Friday afternoon. “It’s something we’re really excited about.”


Technically, it’s a letter of intent, to be agreed upon by all four entities. Halvorson said the letter “is publicly professing that we are going to all try to work together and collaborate to make a medical campus here.”

The Devils Lake City Commission will consider the letter during its regularly scheduled meeting Monday evening. The commission must approve the letter before the city can consider itself part of the agreement, Halvorson said.

Health care in Devils Lake has been a headline-generator over the past year and a half. In January, longtime Mayor Dick Johnson – who has since retired – wrote a letter to various news outlets, calling for changes to health care in the community. The letter showed his frustration with what he said are a limited number of medical procedures available in Devils Lake and what he considers deteriorating conditions at the CHS St. Alexius Devils Lake Hospital. He also noted a lack of cooperation between the health care entities in the community.

Also within the last 15 months, Altru has discussed plans to pursue some sort of expansion in Devils Lake. At present, Altru operates a Devils Lake clinic, but earlier this year it began work to purchase land there for a future health facility. Annie Bonzer, the hospital’s director of public relations, told the Herald on Friday the effort was discontinued when these recent discussions about collaboration began.

In late June 2021, Altru sent 4,000 emailed letters to residents of the community, outlining the system’s commitment to the Devils Lake region. Later that day, the hospital confirmed discussions had begun that, at the time, were considered a precursor to a purchase or management agreement of the existing hospital.

“There is a substantial opportunity and immediate need to enhance health care services in Devils Lake,” the letter read. “A community-owned, Altru-managed hospital is the ideal choice for the Devils Lake community. In this model 100 percent of the current hospital and clinic staff would retain their jobs, the community would own their health care decisions and the funds raised by the hospital would remain local, while care between the hospital, clinic and specialized care needs remain part of a unified system managed by Altru.”

Meanwhile, Essentia Health, a Duluth, Minn.-based system that operates a hospital in Fargo, owns land in Devils Lake. Essentia at one time sought to purchase a number of facilities in North Dakota, including CHI St. Alexius, but the plan fell through.

Johnson, in his letter in January, called for the very thing that appears to be on the horizon now in Devils Lake: Unified health care and more cooperation.


Importantly, it’s only a letter of intent – at least at present. Halvorson describes it as a “formal proclamation that publicly professes the four of us are looking to work together to make this happen.”

The letter will set loose – “aspirational,” according to Halvorson – timelines on creating agreements and coming to conclusions on a large-scale, state-of-the-art medical facility.

“This is a really good thing – a positive outlook for the future of health care in the community,” Halvorson said. “We’re all going to work toward the improvement of the quality and access of care here.”

Korrie Wenzel has been publisher of the Grand Forks Herald and Prairie Business Magazine since 2014.

He is a member of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp. board of directors and, in the past, has served on boards for Junior Achievement, the South Dakota Historical Society Foundation, United Way, Empire Arts Center, Cornerstones Career Learning Center and Crimestoppers.

As publisher, Wenzel oversees news, advertising and business operations at the Herald, as well as the newspaper's opinion content.

Wenzel can be reached at 701-780-1103, or via Twitter via @korriewenzel.
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