DEVILS LAKE — After two town hall meetings this week, a consensus emerged: Many Devils Lake residents are worried about the future of health care in the community.
Organized by Devils Lake Mayor Jim Moe and City Administrator Spencer Halvorson, the meetings attracted many attendees, many of whom used the open discussion format to express their concerns about the Concerns about health care in this town, where health services have always been a topic of concern. Conversations from the past year. Meetings will be held on the afternoon of Wednesday, November 15, and the evening of Thursday, November 16, at the Fire Hall.
Steve Britsch was one of the speakers and expressed support for CHI St. Alexius Health staff.
“We have great doctors, we have great nurses,” he said. “We’re very lucky.”
In October 2022, leaders from Altru Health System, Essentia Health, the city of Devils Lake and the Spirit Lake Nation signed a letter of intent stating they would work together to develop a new health care campus in Devils Lake. The announcement comes after former Mayor Dick Johnson publicly raised concerns about health care and wrote to local media calling for change. In his letter, he expressed concern about the lack of surgical procedures in Devils Lake, an apparent lack of cooperation among the city’s health care providers and what he sees as a deteriorating situation at CHI St. Alexius Hospital in Devils Lake.
In the months since the four entities decided to work together, multiple conversations have taken place at Devils Lake, at least two of which included U.S. Sen. John Hoeven.
“As far as I’m concerned, (health care in Devils Lake) really has to satisfy the community,” he said at a meeting in October.
This week, during meetings on Wednesday and Thursday, residents discussed concerns about the current care facilities, technology and overall condition of CHI St. Alexius Devil’s Lake Hospital. Some praised the current hospital’s nurses and doctors for all they do for the community.
For Bridge, his presence Thursday was not just a show of support for hospital staff, but also a voice for the hospital’s future. He said it doesn’t matter whether the facility has Essentia, Altru or CHI’s name on it.
“We will follow our doctors,” he said. “That’s part of the reason I’m here. And I’m getting older in the community, and they have to keep me alive.”
Another attendee at Thursday’s meeting was Stephanie Foughty, a family medicine physician and department chair at the Altru Clinic in Devils Lake. She said public meetings give her a chance to hear the community’s needs and give the community a chance to come together and have space to talk.
“I think without forums like this, a lot of things would be discussed in coffee shops,” she said. “It really allows everyone to come together and understand what their neighbors are thinking. It gives me insight as a health care provider.”
Mike Connor shares his thoughts on how health care issues are driving people to other cities.
“We’re going to lose shoppers,” he said. “Why would they come to Devils Lake and know they’re going to end up in Grand Forks when they can go to Candor or Rugby and get into a brand new hospital?”
Devils Lake real estate agent Alan Frediger said he has seen firsthand the impact health care has on people’s willingness to stay in town.
“Every day, you can walk out here and sit on the highway and watch seniors leave town for care,” he said. “I talk to someone almost every day who has sold their house for health care.”
He believes conversations like town hall meetings are the “best first step” in making progress, despite years of promises of change to the community.
Reasons for attending Thursday’s meeting also included personal experiences in hospitals, such as what some described as long emergency room wait times. Marvin Mead came to the meeting with clippings of a Grand Forks Herald story about his experience in 2022, when he waited three hours and 20 minutes in the emergency room.
Lakeland Public Library Director Maddie Cummings was unable to attend the town hall meeting due to a scheduling conflict, but spoke about her experience in a separate interview with the Herald.
She said she also has her own experience with emergency room conditions and wait times. According to Cummings, her husband had been sick and unable to drink water, but the two and their young son waited four hours to see her husband, who was still vomiting. They left four hours later. Her husband recovered.
She said she told everyone she knew it wasn’t the staff’s fault; it was her fault. Rather, she attributes it to what she sees as CHI’s lack of investment in the facility.
Cummings believes Devils Lake should become a health care center, but people will drive from the city to smaller towns such as Cando, which has a population of about 1,100. Although she was unable to attend the meeting due to a scheduling conflict, she wanted to get good input and wanted people her age to attend.
“I’m excited to hear these findings,” she said. “This town is so big that residents don’t need to drive 90 miles to get care.”
Devils Lake Mayor Jim Moe said discussions at both meetings will be part of a roundtable discussion on Monday, Nov. 20, at the Hofstad Agricultural Center. The meeting will begin at 1 p.m. with public comment. Hoving is expected to attend.