Dr. Casey Ryan’s Top 6

Dr Ryan Top MomentsWow, 17.5 years goes fast.

In 1979, Grand Forks Clinic added six physicians, myself included, increasing to 45 physicians. Today, Altru Health System has over 210 physicians and over 70 nurse practitioners and physician assistants.

During my time as president, six things stand out as major successes for Grand Forks, East Grand Forks and the entire region Altru serves.

1. Twenty Grand Forks Clinic physicians and the clinic manager purchase land in 1970 to initiate medical park development. St. Michael’s Hospital and Deaconess Hospital become United Hospital in 1971.

2. Grand Forks Clinic and United Hospital merge to form Altru Health System in 1997.

3. Altru Health System becomes the first member of the Mayo Clinic Care Network in September of 2011.

4. Altru opens a second Grand Forks hospital on South Washington Street in 2014.

5. The culture of Altru becomes solidified around teamwork and “doing what is best for the patient.”

6. Altru pursues the vision of achieving world class care for quality and service in 2014. 

Altru’s strength is generated through all its employees. For all that Altru has accomplished, I strongly believe that its future will be even more successful in improving health and enriching lives.

-Dr. Casey Ryan

Dr. Ryan will retire as president of Altru Health System, effective January 1, 2015. He will continue as a practicing provider in internal medicine, diabetes and endocrinology.

5 Ways to Be Charitable This Holiday Season

GCW MagThis guest article was first published in the holiday issue of Grand Cities Woman Magazine. Stephanie DeJean, client communications director with Altru Health Foundation, shares ways to give back.

This holiday season, as I reflect on the things that are important to me and the things I’m thankful for, I’m inspired to look for ways I can be more charitable. When we focus on fulfilling our wants versus our needs, it’s easy to lose sight of being generous, appreciative and kind. When I take the time to focus my energy on these values, without fail life becomes more joyful and peaceful.

Here are a few ideas for how we can all do more to meet the needs of others this holiday.

1. Donate to your favorite organization. This may perhaps be the most obvious way to be generous. The old adage that “every bit counts” really does mean something when you look at some of the amazing philanthropic work being done throughout the Grand Cities.

2. Ask a local nonprofit how you can help. If you don’t have the means to make a cash donation, there are plenty of ways to help that don’t involve money. Volunteer your time to help your local hospital or food bank. There are hundreds of ways you can help—just ask how.

3. Use your talents to benefit others. Do you have a knack for knitting or quilting? Donate some of your work to a local homeless shelter or cancer center. If knitting isn’t for you, consider coaching a kids’ sports team, acting in a theater production or assembling a gift basket for a silent auction. Be creative with your unique talents!

4. Get in shape and support a cause. Winter makes it easy for us to go into “hibernation” mode. Break out of your rut by signing up for a bike race, marathon, triathlon or 5k walk that benefits a cause you’re passionate about.

5. Instead of buying gifts, donate. What do you buy for the person who has everything? Why not make a donation in their honor? Many nonprofits will send a letter to your loved one notifying them of your gift.

Whether it’s your time, talent or treasure, giving back can be done in big or small ways. This holiday, my husband and I will make a donation to Altru’s Camp Good Mourning in honor of our loved ones (sorry to ruin the surprise, mom!).

I challenge you to put some of your energy into being charitable this holiday season. You may be surprised at how much you get back in return.

Read the full article on page 12 of Grand Cities Woman Magazine. 

Will you donate to patients in need this holiday season? Click here to help.

DeJeanStephanie DeJean grew up in Burnsville, MN, and moved to Grand Forks in 2012. Although she completed her bachelor’s degree in Political Science at the University of Minnesota, she found her career in philanthropy as the client communications director of Altru Health Foundation. When she’s not fund raising for patient care, she enjoys volunteering at St. Michael’s parish, reading magazines, cooking, and spending time with her husband, Tony, and English bulldog, Lucy.

Walking through the Holidays after the Death of a Loved One

Walking through the Holidays“City sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style. In the air there’s a feeling of Christmas…” 

The opening lines from the holiday song “Silver Bells” can, for many, bring a touch of nostalgia and anticipation as we begin to look forward to the holiday season. However, if you’ve experienced the loss of a loved one, the holidays may represent something very different. Instead of joy and family togetherness, holidays may now bring feelings of sadness, loss and emptiness.

Memories from past holidays may simply remind us of the one who is no longer here. While the media and those around us may have the best intentions, there is simply no such thing as “10 Easy Steps…” to change the way you are feeling. However, there are some things you can do to help cope with your feelings during the holiday season.

Death ends a life, not a relationship
Memories of parties and family gatherings will always hold special meaning to you. After the death of a loved one, it is important to remember those times. Talk about the memories with trusted family members and friends. Select people who will not judge you, but rather will honor your loved one by listening to your stories and fond memories.

Create new traditions
Traditions are important, but this can be a good time to reassess which traditions you want to continue, pass onto other family members or simply let go. This is also a good time to consider creating a new tradition that will honor your loved one:

  • Light a memorial candle as part of your holiday dinner.
  • Offer a toast to the love you still cherish.
  • Serve a favorite dish in their honor.
  • Purchase a memorial ornament.
  • Donate to a charity in your loved one’s name.
  • Hang a stocking and instead of treats, fill the stocking with notes of fond memories.

Honor your faith traditions
It is not unusual to feel a renewed sense of faith, or even discover a new set of beliefs, following the death of a loved one. Take time to honor these faith practices and surround yourself with people who will support you in them.

Respect your own needs and feelings
We grieve because we love; the deeper the love, the more intense the mourning can be. The feelings you have may leave you feeling fatigued. Don’t push yourself to do everything you’ve always done. Enlist help. Take time to rest and slow down. Allow yourself to decline some of the holiday engagements that may be too demanding this year. Be good to yourself. Be patient with yourself. Love yourself, and always hold onto hope.

Candlelight Memorial

On Saturday, December 6, Altru Health System will hold its annual Candlelight Memorial Service at 7 p.m. in the hospital lobby. This service is dedicated to all babies who have died shortly after birth or as a young child. This year’s service commemorates the 25 years infant and child bereavement services have been available at Altru Health System. Chaplin Toni Betting, the program’s former coordinator, will share her own personal story of loss and her memories of how bereavement services at Altru have grown through the years.

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. 

American Diabetes Month: Signs to Watch and Tips for Prevention

Diabetes-MonthOne in 11 adults in North Dakota has diabetes, and the rate keeps climbing. That’s almost 60,000 people—more than the population of Grand Forks.

There are three main types of diabetes: type 1, which usually develops in childhood; type 2, which is more likely in adulthood but is increasingly being diagnosed in children; and gestational diabetes, which occurs during pregnancy.

Why does it matter?
Based on the statistics above, diabetes is more common than you might think. Undetected diabetes is also common—one in four people with diabetes don’t know they have it—and when you don’t know you have it, diabetes can quickly get out of control.

Over time, the disease can significantly damage your heart, eyes, kidneys and blood vessels, which increases your risk of heart attack and stroke, blindness, kidney failure and amputation. Gestational diabetes can cause birth complications, negatively impact the health of your newborn and increases your risk for type 2 diabetes. Detecting diabetes early is the best way to prevent painful, debilitating and costly damage to your body.

Dr. Eric L. Johnson explains, “Now is a good time to visit with your health care provider to assess your diabetes risk and to be screened appropriately for proper treatment and avoidance of future diabetes complications.”

What are the symptoms?

  • Increased hunger or thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Fatigue
  • Wounds that won’t heal
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Numb or tingling hands or feet
  • Blurry vision
  • Sexual problems
  • Urinary tract and vaginal infections

Diabetes Symptoms

(Image source.)

If you have any of these symptoms, ask your health care provider if it might be diabetes.

How can I prevent diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that usually develops in childhood. Currently, we do not know of any way to prevent type 1 diabetes; however, we can prevent life-threatening reactions by catching and treating it early.

Type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes can often be prevented by making positive lifestyle choices like eating nutritious foods, developing an exercise routine and working toward a healthy weight. Here are some other prevention tips:

  • Good fats, such as those found in vegetable oils, nuts and seeds are excellent choices in small servings. Sub them in for saturated fats, which come mainly from meat and dairy and make our body work harder to control blood sugar.
  • With as little as a seven percent weight loss, you may be able to cut your risk of diabetes in half.
  • Skip the sugar. In one study, women who drank one or more sugar-sweetened beverages per day had an 83 percent higher risk of type 2 diabetes than those who drank less than one per month.
  • Diets rich in natural, fiber-containing foods may help protect against diabetes. Substitute brown rice for white, use whole wheat pasta, and choose fruits and veggies for sides and snacks.
  • As little as 30 minutes of walking five days a week can help prevent diabetes.

Even with proper information, taking action and prioritizing change while maintaining happiness (and stress level) is no easy task.

Altru’s Diabetes Center serves patients, families and providers in our region through education, leadership, advocacy, and research in diabetes, health promotion and preventive services. It includes physicians, nurses and diabetes educators who help people diagnosed with diabetes manage medications and control the disease.

Altru’s Registered Dietitians are here to help you prevent or manage diabetes. Together, you can learn what changes might help you improve your energy level, feel better and prevent complications down the road. The perfect plan for wellness and prevention is not one you’ll find in a book. It’s the one you’re able to stick to and enjoy for the long run. Creating a plan that works for you—that’s what Altru’s dietitians are all about.

If you could benefit from meeting with a dietitian to prevent diabetes, or with any of the education center staff to expand your knowledge or get a fresh start with managing your diabetes, please don’t hesitate to call us or ask your physician for a referral.

Crist, JohnJohn Crist is a Registered Dietitian at Altru Health System.  He is especially interested in discussing strategies to create a healthy and positive relationship with food. In his free time, John enjoys experimenting in the kitchen and finding new ways to be active.

Celebrating the Power of Rural Health

It’s the message of many country songs today: small towns rock.

Small town pride runs thick throughout our region. In fact, just over half, about 52 percent, of North Dakota’s population is considered rural. Our small towns are wonderful places to live, work and play. Altru Health System is proud to be here, not only in Grand Forks but across the entire region, providing world-class care in the comfort of hometowns.

On November 20, 2014, we join in celebrating National Rural Health Day with the Center for Rural Health. Here are a number of ways we support the rural lifestyle.

Rural Health DayIn addition, we provide our small towns:

  • Access to consistent, high quality health care,
  • Mayo Clinic knowledge and expertise through the Mayo Clinic Care Network,
  • Streamlined and efficient electronic medical records,
  • Emergency Medical Services, including training and support for rural volunteers,
  • Home Health and Hospice services throughout the region and
  • Wellness and prevention-focused community events.

You don’t have to travel far beyond Grand Forks to discover the beautiful small communities sprinkled across northeastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota. The people of rural America are known for being nice and friendly. It’s not uncommon to see a neighbor pulling someone out of the ditch or removing snow from a driveway. And, health shines through this hardworking lifestyle.

Learn more about Altru’s Regional Services. 

Are you from a small town? Give your hometown a shout-out in the comments. 

See also: Altru and USDA Partner to Increase Medical Access in Rural Areas

Healthy Choices Greater Grand Forks

When you think about Greater Grand Forks, what comes to mind? Cold winters, hockey, aviation, innovation, super nice people, an awesome community?

Unfortunately, there is another thing that is common in Grand Forks. It’s one that many of us struggle with, and it’s something that we want to change.

Continue reading>> 


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.