Positive Changes in Altru’s Emergency Room

AmbulanceWhen you think of emergency services, what comes to mind?

Sirens flashing? Patients rushing into the emergency room? Maybe a scene from your favorite medical drama on TV?

When we think of emergency services at Altru, we think about the positive changes in our emergency room and ambulances that help provide better, quicker access to care for our patients.

Improved Wait Times and Service
Health emergencies happen. When they do, you need care now. Luckily, that care is available, quickly. From January 1 through August 31, 2014, we’ve served:

  • 32,113 patients in our emergency room and urgent care combined,
  • seeing an average of 83 patients per day in our ER alone.

Thanks to increased communication and refined processes, our average wait and admission times have decreased. The providers and staff are continually focused on keeping the patient at the very center of their work to ensure a great experience.

We continue to “direct bed” patients so care can begin. If there’s an open bed in the emergency department, the patient is brought back immediately. Registration can then take place at the bed side.

New Technology
Altru’s paramedics respond to a wide variety of calls on a daily basis, some 4,755 calls since the beginning of the year. Some calls require the administration of CPR. Those patients now have new technology to help them breathe again.

Thanks to grant money from the North Dakota Department of Health, LUCAS devices were purchased for our ambulance services personnel to use. These automatic CPR machines provide hands-free compressions during cardiac arrest. The automation ensures the patient receives properly timed compressions, while alleviating responder fatigue and incorrect form. They also lessen the number of responders necessary for each patient, allowing them to perform other duties including administering medication and IVs as necessary.

Additional LUCAS devices are slated for the emergency outpatient department and intensive care unit.

When it comes to the heart, time is muscle. The more time that goes by, the harder it becomes for the heart, a muscle, to function. When a patient is suffering from a ST Elevation Myocardial Infarction (STEMI), they experience a heart attack caused by a completely blocked vessel. This kind of heart attack affects large areas of heart muscles, and will register on an electrocardiogram (EKG).

With advanced equipment and technology, our paramedics are able to transmit EKG data directly from the field to our ER physicians. With this information, our STEMI team of cardiologists and cath lab staff is activated very quickly.

Response times to open critically blocked circulation to the heart has significantly decreased. Since this process was implemented in the ER in early 2013, we have been at 100 percent compliance on meeting the national goal time of less than 90 minutes to have the artery open, with a median time of 47 minutes.

Altru’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) staff takes pride in the delivery of quality service to our customers, whether they require emergency, urgent or elective care. Altru is a Level II Trauma Center serving northeastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota. This designation from the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma and the North Dakota Department of Health attests to our high quality of care.

We know this is an important community asset and strive to make each and every interaction as positive as it can be during stressful and uncertain times. If you have feedback on care you’ve received, please let us know.

See also: Emergency Room: Times are Improving (January 2014)

AxtmanRenee Axtman, RN, is Altru’s Administrative Director of Primary Care and has been with Altru for 30 years. She received her bachelor’s in nursing from the University of North Dakota. Renee serves on the United Way board, her church committee and is active in youth sports organizations. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with family (husband, three sons and new grandbaby) and friends, traveling, sports, photography and gardening. 

5 Things You Must Know about Ebola

EbolaEbola. It’s on the news everywhere. What do you, as a resident of North Dakota or Minnesota, need to know?

1. Your chance of getting Ebola is very low. Unlike the common cold or flu, Ebola is not an airborne disease. In order to be infected, you need to come into contact with bodily fluids of an infected person.

2. Currently, there is no significant risk of Ebola infection in the United States. 

3. Avoid nonessential international travel, especially to countries in West Africa (Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a non-essential travel

4. If you or someone you are in contact with has recently traveled to these areas, you need to be monitored for symptoms for 21 days. You are looking for signs and symptoms such as fever, chills, muscle aches and rash.

5. Experiencing these symptoms? Traveled recently? If the answer to both is yes, you’ll need to be evaluated. Contact your provider (or student health) immediately. If possible, call ahead to the facility where you will be seen in order for them to prepare isolation.

While the risk is very low, should Ebola present itself in Grand Forks or across the Red River Valley, Altru Health System is ready to act. We have knowledgeable staff, defined processes and proper equipment in place to handle whatever comes our way.

A Mother’s TEARS: Healing through Suicide Prevention

Michael“Suicide” became a part of my everyday vocabulary on August 3, 2003.

This was the day I found out my 18-year-old son, Michael James, had taken his life. The agony was unbearable. Why? How? When? What?

Prior to that day, I had no personal experience with suicide. When I heard news stories about it, my heart ached for the person and the family and friends left behind.

The Never-ending Nightmare
The week after Michael died was a whirlwind, and yet time seemed to stand still. This had to be a nightmare. How do you plan a funeral in only a day? There was so much to do, and I didn’t want to think about it. I had no choice. With the help of family and friends, we decided on music, pictures, scripture and hardest of all—his casket. None were perfect enough to lay my son to rest.

Family, friends and even some strangers stopped by to pay their condolences. We shared memories throughout the week. The support was appreciated, yet it was validation that Michael was no longer with us. My heart was heavy with sadness and disbelief. There would be no more memories with Michael. No more birthdays, graduations, wedding or future grandchildren.

CemetaryUnanswered Questions
At the funeral I had more unanswered questions. Was Michael aware of all the people that loved and cared about him? Numbness overcame me, and the funeral was over in the blink of an eye. He was really gone.

After a while, once I realized life was moving forward, I began searching for answers. I learned a lot about suicide through endless Internet searching. I was looking for ways to help myself, my daughter, family and Michael’s friends. One of my main goals was to help guide my daughter through this emotional roller coaster. We had to learn together how to cope with life without Michael. It became a lonely place to be. I felt isolated and wondered what people thought. Was I a bad parent? Were people judging me as a mom? What do I do now?

Forming TEARS
About a year after my life changed, I decided I needed to do something for myself, family, Michael’s friends and other people in this situation. I was not alone.

I contacted Michael’s high school counselor, Marilyn Ripplinger, who was instrumental in my healing. We discussed the need for suicide education for students and the need to help others who have experienced a suicide. There was nothing locally. I didn’t want anyone experiencing this tragedy to feel like I did. We decided to start an organization to help educate our community, raise awareness for suicide prevention and support the families and friends left behind.

In the fall of 2004, TEARS (Together We Educate About the Realities of Suicide) was born. Our mission was to educate young people about suicide prevention and support those left behind. Our team provided workshops with tools to help others if a person expressed suicidal thoughts.

TEARS in Action
We spoke to people around our community and even around the states of North Dakota and Minnesota. The first TEARS Celebrate Life Walk was held in September of 2007. We had over 300 participants and raised funds to support our mission.

Ten years since the first TEARS meeting, we have touched many lives. This journey has been a healing process for me and will continue to be. I take one step at a time to remember Michael and cherish every day.

In 2013, TEARS and Altru Psychiatry Center joined forces to further the mission of educating our community, raising awareness about suicide prevention and supporting those left behind.


Learn more about the upcoming TEARS Walk for Suicide Prevention, held September 14 at Lincoln Park. If you have personally been affected by suicide, Survivors of Suicide meets monthly to offer group support. 

See also: Robin Williams and Mental Health Awareness (GFPS Counseling Program)

Sandy 3Sandy Kovar is the STEMI (heart attack) and stroke coordinator for Altru Health System. She volunteers for many different projects and causes, including serving on the TEARS board and Camp Good Mourning board. In her free time, Sandy enjoys spending quality time with her family, traveling and watching UND hockey. 

High 5! Reaching High | Growing Stronger

Most of us enjoy the opportunity to do our best and then see the positive impact of our efforts. High 5! Reaching High | Growing Stronger is an ongoing program designed to recognize our long-term employees who have celebrated their five-year incremental anniversaries in the prior year. During a cold and snowy February, over 350 Altru members joined in small group sessions with leaders and physician leaders to celebrate their accomplishments and engage in a dialogue on the difference their contributions make.


Ripple Effect
The message of High 5! was simple: each life creates a ripple effect. Stories were shared about how one decision or “fork in the road” completely changed future paths. Leaders and employees discussed how important and valuable each person and role is to the organization, and that we cannot exist as a whole without each other. Participants were encouraged to note how they can continue to intentionally create positive ripples back in their departments.

Mind Map
One of the activities of High 5! included the creation of a Mind Map where participants sketched out their hopes and dreams for the future of Altru. The collective hopes and dreams of all of the participants have been captured in the “master” mind map image below. Our long-term employees were excited to consider how Altru can meet the needs of patients through increased attention to patient care and service, technology and facility development, access, wellness, community outreach and positive attitudes.

High 5 words

High 5 to you!
Congratulations to all of our employees who dedicate years of service to improve the health and enrich the lives of our patients and their families. Through our collective efforts, we will accomplish our vision to deliver world-class care to the people of our region. We look forward to continuing to recognize our employees with future High 5 sessions.

See also: Top 5 Themes from High 5! in 2013

Karen MellumKaren Mellum, PhD, is an organizational development consultant at Altru. She provides consultation and training on leadership development, team development, change management and employee engagement. In her free time, Karen enjoys spending time with her family and golden retriever, running, reading, volunteering and traveling.

10 Things to Know about Dr. Eric Lunn, Altru’s Incoming President

Lunn - 10 Things to KnowPerhaps you know Dr. Eric Lunn, the pediatrician. Maybe you know administrator Dr. Eric Lunn, Altru’s Chief Medical Executive and soon-to-be President. But, do you know Eric, the person?

I recently met with Eric, or “Ich,” a nickname coined by his three older siblings (he said it had something to do with silly putty). With an impressive resume of health care leadership experience, education and community involvement, Dr. Lunn is a true professional. He’s also a genuine, fun person who adores his family. Here are 10 things to know about Dr. Eric Lunn, Altru’s incoming president.

1. Born and raised in Bismarck, Eric’s first job was with Lunn Construction, the family business. It taught him the importance of hard work, honesty and working as a team.

2. He has wanted to be a pediatrician since the eighth grade. His dream job is taking care of children, in any capacity. There are five physicians in Dr. Lunn’s family—two brothers, two cousins and himself.

3. The best advice he’s ever received? “When my parents told me to marry my wife.”

4. Eric and his late wife, Cynth, have two daughters, Leslie (an RN at Altru) and Whitney (a graphic designer in Colorado). He’s a proud grandpa to seven grandchildren, ages five months to 13 years.

Lunn Cake

5. In his free time, you’ll find Eric at the family lake cabin, at any UND sporting event, teaching church confirmation classes (which he’s done for 17 years) or hanging out with his grandkids.


6. He’s left-handed and colorblind. “So, please tell me if my clothes don’t match.”

7. Eric’s favorite quote can be found on his office door: To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world. –Unknown

He shared, “It makes me think of teaching and working with students. Everyone has an influence on others.”

8. His favorite food in the world is peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. He smirked, “What else would you expect from a pediatrician?”

9. If Eric had to practice one activity for an hour daily, he would choose tennis or meditation.

10. His role models in life are Dr. James VanLooy and Dr. Casey Ryan.

As President, Dr. Lunn will be responsible for providing the overall leadership to Altru Health System. He will continue his role as a practicing physician in pediatrics. 

Leave a message for Dr. Lunn in the comments.

See also: Humbled and Honored, Grand Forks Herald article

Angie - B+WPart of Altru’s public relations team, Angie Laxdal grew up on a farm near the small town of Crystal, ND. An advertising graduate of NDSU, she specializes in creative writing and social media. Beyond the office, Angie’s a wife, mom, home project DIY-er, baker and, most recently, runner.

9 Ways to Comfort the Grieving


“The only way to get to the other side is through the door.”
–Helen Keller

This is especially true when we are walking through grief. Society would have us believe grief is something to “let go of” or “get beyond.” However, grief is not something from which we recover. Grief is something that transforms us. It changes us forever. And, the deeper we love, the deeper our grief can be.

Most of us are not comfortable with our own grief feelings, let alone know how to help a loved one who is grieving. In his book, Healing a Friend’s Grieving Heart, Dr. Alan Wolfelt offers practical tips for helping someone through loss. Here are 9 ways to comfort the grieving. 

1. Understand the difference between grief and mourning.
Grief is the complex mix of thoughts and feelings we have when someone dies. Mourning is the outward expression of our grief. Both are vital to healing.

2. Remember the person who died.
Death ends a life; it does not end a relationship. Use the deceased person’s name. Remembering the past and storytelling are ways of helping the loved one live on through memories. 

3. Allow your friend to cry.
It’s OK to cry. Tears are a form of mourning. Resist the urge to offer a tissue right away. Though well-intended, this response tends to send the message that you’d like them to stop crying. Instead, lean close and lightly touch your friend’s arm or hand.

4. Help your friend move toward their grief, not away from it.
Our society teaches us emotional pain is to be avoided, not embraced. Yet, it is only in moving toward our grief that we can be healed. Don’t ask your friend how he’s doing; ask him how he’s surviving. This calls for a more honest response. 

5. Don’t fall back on clichés, religious or otherwise.
“Give it time.” “It was God’s will.” “At least he didn’t suffer.” “Now she’s in a better place.” “God only gives you what you can handle.” Although well intended, such clichés hurt because they diminish the mourner’s feelings and take away their right to mourn. Your friend may have faith, but still needs to mourn.

6. Do say:

  • I’m thinking of you.
  • I care.
  • I am here for you.
  • I want to help.
  • I want you to know I loved [name of deceased], too. 

7. Attend the funeral.
Even if you didn’t personally know the person who died, it’s appropriate for you to attend the funeral to support your friend.

8. Make a “Contact Pact” with yourself.
Commit to contacting your friend once a week/month. Vary the means and times so your friend won’t feel like something on your “to do” list. Don’t neglect your friend as time passes; mourners need support long after the event of the death.

9. Be mindful of anniversaries.
Anniversaries – of the death, life events, birthdays – can be especially difficult for the mourners. Be direct; say, “I know Bill died six months ago today, and I was thinking about you.” Let your friend take the lead from there. 

Community Support
On Tuesday, August 12, those who have lost a child are invited to attend the Cherished Children Memorial Service. This event seeks to support families who have lost a child by any means, at any stage of life. The event is free and open to the public.

Cherished Children

(Read about last year’s Cherished Children Memorial Service.)

Whether you are facing grief yourself, or supporting friends in theirs, know that it is good to reach for help. Altru’s Infant Bereavement Program, Pastoral Services and grief counselors at Altru Psychiatry Center provide resources for grief support.

Penny MillspaughPenny Millspaugh is the Holistic Care coordinator at Altru. Penny is a certified Bereavement Coordinator, Healing Touch Practitioner(L-1) and Spiritual Director. She uses these skills, along with aromatherapy and guided imagery, to help patients and staff work through grief, anxiety and pain. In her free time, Penny loves to sing with the Twin Forks Sweet Adelines Chorus, volunteer at her church and enjoy time with her family. 

Mayo Clinic Mobile Exhibit | A Must-See in Grand Forks, July 28

What’s on your bucket list this summer? Why not add a visit to the Mayo Clinic mobile exhibit?

Mayo Exhibit Blog Image

Throughout 2014, Mayo Clinic is celebrating 150 years of serving humanity. As part of the celebration, Mayo Clinic is visiting over 50 cities across the U.S. and Canada from April through October.

And it’s our turn Monday, July 28, 2014.

The expandable trailer will be on display in the parking lot of Altru Main Clinic from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Parked and fully expanded, the exhibit is 60 feet long and 28 feet wide. Experience Mayo Clinic’s story while exploring three areas: Essence of Mayo Clinic, Vision for the Future and Connect with Mayo Clinic. 

To prepare for the big day, we sat down with David Hayes, M.D., medical director of the Mayo Clinic Care Network, for a quick Q&A about the exhibit.

Q: Why is Mayo Clinic producing a mobile exhibit?

A: Throughout 2014, Mayo Clinic is recognizing this milestone we’ve reached — serving humanity for 150 years. The mobile exhibit is one way to thank the patients and friends who’ve been part of the journey and to share our vision with the public.

Q: What is a mobile exhibit?

A: It’s a high-impact exhibition on wheels. And when you enter the vehicle, you’ll walk through interactive displays that tell the story of Mayo Clinic, including its history, advances in science and vision for the future of health care. In addition, visitors will discover many ways to connect with Mayo Clinic, including social media and online resources.

Q: Why is the mobile exhibit stopping in Grand Forks?

A: Altru Health System was the first member of the Mayo Clinic Care Network. That’s significant to us. And to recognize our relationship, we asked if Altru would host the Mayo Clinic exhibit in Grand Forks. 

Q: How big is the mobile exhibit?

A: Really big.

At 60 feet long by 28 feet wide, when expanded, you won’t miss it. That’s about half the width of an NBA court. Overall, it is nearly 1,000 square feet of multi-media displays.

Q: What are some highlights of the mobile exhibit?

A: The exhibit is divided into three thematic areas: Essence of Mayo Clinic, Vision for the Future and Connect with Mayo Clinic. The following principles are woven throughout the experience: teamwork, patient-centered care, innovation, leadership and integrity. You will see examples of new research to prevent and treat disease; care for wounded warriors; and Mayo Clinic’s impact around the world. The exhibit also notes how we’re working with physicians and health care systems around the world to improve the delivery of health care. A prime example of that is Mayo Clinic Care Network, which is of course, how we collaborate with Altru on behalf of patients.

And for fun, you can have your picture taken with the Mayo brothers in a photo booth inside the exhibit.

Q: How many people can tour the mobile exhibit at a given time? 

A: The vehicle can accommodate 50 to 75 visitors at once. The average tour time is 20 minutes. So, about 150-300 visitors can tour the exhibit per hour.

Q: What’s the cost?

A: It’s free.

Mayo Clinic developed the exhibit as an educational resource. There is no charge for the tour.

Q: How many stops will the mobile exhibit make? 

A: The mobile exhibit will visit more than 50 cities throughout the U.S. and Canada from April through October 2014, including Mayo Clinic campuses in Rochester, Phoenix, and Jacksonville.

Q: How can people learn more about the mobile exhibit and Mayo Clinic’s sesquicentennial?

A. More information is available online. Visit 150years.mayoclinic.org and follow the conversation at #MayoClinic150.

Other questions? Let us know in the comments. We look forward to seeing you Monday, July 28 between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

The Newest Trend in Hospitals: Observation Units

Dream HomeIf you were designing your dream home, would you include some of the trendy new spaces popping up on HGTV and Pinterest? Man cave, breakfast nook, coffee bar, sauna, craft room—perhaps even a mudroom with a special dog bath to rinse off Fido?

At Altru Hospital, we’re dreaming of a different kind of trending space: an observation unit. Observation units are designated spaces for doctors and nurses to observe medical conditions for changes.

What is Observation?
Observation is an outpatient service provided within the hospital. Medicare and most insurances require this service be used for patients who have symptoms that need monitoring but may not be appropriate for inpatient admission.

Altru’s new observation unit, opening July 7 on third floor of Altru Hospital, will serve as an extension of the Emergency Outpatient Department. (And, allowing us to quickly and comfortably room patients, it should positively impact emergency room waiting times.)

The observation unit is specific to patients with the diagnosis of:

  • abdominal pain (nonspecific)
  • acute pain (not cancer-related)
  • allergic reaction (excluding anaphylactic)
  • asthma
  • breakthrough seizures (chronic)
  • chest pain
  • concussion
  • constipation
  • dehydration
  • epistaxis (nosebleed)
  • headache
  • hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
  • nephrolithiasis (kidney stones)
  • syncope (fainting)
  • TIA (stroke)

Consisting of 20 private rooms, nine of which can be converted to semi-private rooms as needed, the unit will serve adult patients. Observation may be requested if treatment is expected to be completed within 24 to 48 hours. (Note: Outside of the unit, observation can also take place in any bed in the hospital.)

Go Back Home
By providing focused, rapid medical evaluations, observation units can help reduce hospital readmission rates, save patients an extended first hospital admission and improve patient outcomes.

At Altru, our goal is to get patients back to the comforts of home as quickly and efficiently as possible. Because, there’s no place like home… especially the kind with designated man caves and craft rooms.

Learn More

Working Together to Deliver World-Class Care

Our vision is as bold as it is straightforward: 

We will deliver world-class health care to the people of our region.

It’s a lofty goal, and the first step to getting there is recognizing just how big the task will be.

World-class care defined
“World-class” means providing the best health care anywhere: the best quality, the best service and the best outcomes. It’s like getting an A+ in every subject on your report card and, as good as we already are, we’re not there yet. Simply put, our aim is to make sure we deliver nothing but the best, without exception, in every single patient interaction.

Changing environment
The sweeping changes under the Affordable Care Act are reshaping health care. Industry trends tell us further reduction in reimbursement rates, along with decreased medical benefits for Americans, will be our ongoing reality. In the future, we need to do more with less.

Fortunately, being aware of these pressures now helps us prepare. Over the coming years, we have the opportunity and the responsibility to “reinvent” health care for our region.

How do we get there?
Working together toward the same goal, we can do this. Like a machine, if one cog falls out, the machine breaks down. All are required to rotate simultaneously. When cogs work together, action begins.

The same goes for Altru. While our jobs are vastly different from one department to another, we all need to work together with the same vigorous momentum to deliver world-class care.

Led by our vision and strategic plan, newly created foundational teams will move us in the right direction. Teams include:

Our Strategy

Our Strategy.
Altru’s Strategic Plan will continue to drive us forward. It is the road map that outlines our goals and measurable outcomes organized in pillars: People, Quality, Service, Finance, Growth and Community.


Leadership Accountability
Leadership Accountability.
Leads the implementation of an objective, outcome-based process to cascade our goals and evaluate individual leader performance and contribution.


Quality Impact

Quality Impact.
Leads the hardwiring of expected behaviors, improves the internal and external customers’ experience, quality measures and clinical outcomes. Initial priorities are measurement, standards and communication.


Leadership Development
Leadership Development Institute. 
Leads the development of a learning lab focused on accelerating organizational outcomes through leadership development. (Learn more about the Leadership Development Institute.)


Physician Engagement

Physician Engagement.
Improve service to and partnership with physicians. Remove barriers to providing quality service. Strengthen communication channels between physicians, administration and nursing.


With all teams working together toward the same goal, we will function like a well-oiled machine.

Delivering World-Class Care

The most important ingredient of all is already in place: our people. We have a mighty team of 4,000 capable and committed health care professionals. Working together toward clear goals, we can accomplish anything we collectively set our minds to.

What does “deliver world-class health care to the residents of our region” mean to you? Let us know.

Attacking Cancer at All Angles

“It’s about focusing on the fight and not the fright.”

-Robin Roberts 

The new linear accelerator at Altru Cancer Center advances the fight against cancer. The high-tech machine attacks cancer cells at all angles, from head to toe and everything in between.

Following six weeks of installation and six weeks of calibration, Altru’s new, cutting-edge linear accelerator (Infinity model by Elekta) began treating patients in April 2014.

Linear Accelerator team at Altru

(Front Row, L to R: Aaron Kempenich, Diane Prudhomme, Lori Miller. Back Row, L to R: Sharon Jenson, Dr. Grant Seeger, Kent Perrin, Kristine Krom, Dr. Marshall Winchester, Jim Olivier)

Leaf-Like Motion
“The new machine operates in one fluid motion using leaf-shaped plates,” explains Aaron Kempenich, physicist. “We can more precisely target radiation at cancer cells. It can be used on all shapes and sizes of people. Our goal is to attack the cancer, while carefully sparing healthy tissue and organs.”

With the linear accelerator’s precise targeting, cancer patients experience fewer negative side effects with treatment, improving overall quality of life.

Better Patient Experience
The equipment will also reduce treatment time for patients, from 7-15 minutes down to two or three minutes. This makes it much more comfortable for patients who have difficulty lying on their backs.

Linear Accelerator above

Peaceful scene above the linear accelerator.

The 360-degree attack approach moves around the patient treating a variety of cancers, including lung and brain tumors. For example, some brain tumors may only require one treatment (outpatient procedure), while lung tumors may take one to five treatments.

Linear Accelerator at Altru

Equipped to Fight
No one wants to think about needing an advanced cancer-attacking machine such as Altru’s linear accelerator. If the unimaginable should happen to you or a loved one, Altru Cancer Center is well equipped to help you fight back.

Help finish the fight against cancer. Join the 2014 American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life in Grand Forks Friday, June 6, 2014 from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. Volunteers can call 780.4717 for more information.