May 19, 2024 | By: Matthew Freeman

Essentia Health Holds Listening Session in Fosston Ahead of Arbitration

Essentia Health in Fosston decided to pause obstetric services in June of 2022, citing a need for additional nursing staff. Fosston city officials tried to work with Essentia to find a solution, but after several months, they felt Essentia had no intention of restoring OB services, which would break an agreement the two made to continue core health care services at that hospital.

On Wednesday, Essentia Health decided to hold a public listening session with members of the Fosston community. Following months of back-and-forth regarding OB services being taken away at Essentia Health in Fosston, representatives from Essentia spoke to resident to better understand what they think of the situation, and the possibility of arbitration.

“I think we wanted to get an idea of what they knew about the situation and what they know about arbitration, kind of Essentia Health’s point of view, the city’s point of view,” said Louie St. George, Essentia Health External Communications Manager. “We want to listen to them. We wanted to hear them ask their questions, find out what they had to say, and really give them an outlet to get some clarity around a pretty uncertain situation.”

However, residents of Fosston in attendance were unhappy with how the discussion turned out.

“I think it was a pointless meeting, to be honest with you,” admitted resident Holly Lenes. “Essentia came in with their intentions, and I think that their intentions were to scare our community and they don’t realize that we’re a lot stronger than they anticipated and we’re willing to fight back.”

“I thought that they were placating the community,” stated resident Melanie Hevel-Olson. “I think that they did this to check a box that they are making an attempt to talk to the community when they are reaching out to us. It doesn’t feel like they really, truly care about us and they don’t seem genuinely concerned about returning OB services to Fosston.”

Close to 100 members of the community showed up to the listening session, so Essentia decided to split the crowd into smaller groups to let everyone have a chance to speak their minds.

“I think so many times that the loudest people are in the room are the only ones who get hurt, and me personally, if I’m in that kind of environment, I’m not going to ask my question,” said St. George. “[We] break it down into smaller groups, a little bit more intimate. We give more people a chance to be heard.”

City officials, however, saw this as a tactic.

“I assume that was a tactic to kind of divide and conquer. I think they were afraid of mob mentality,” says Cassie Heide, Fosston City Administrator. “Certainly this community is not unreasonable. We just want answers. They’re dealing with very good-hearted people that just want to be told the truth, and what we heard tonight is that they feel lied to, they feel misled, and they feel like Essentia has not been honest with them.”

During the group part of this discussion, Essentia asked questions that the community didn’t feel were the right questions to ask.

“I mean, they were certainly manufactured, I believe, and looking for an answer that they’d like to have,” Heide said. “I feel a lot of the material presented was manufactured to scare people.”

“I think the questions being asked have a tone of fear, trying to generate nervousness, generate [a] false premise of who and how the transition would take place to an independent health care organization,” explained Evan Foster, First Care Foundation Chairman.

Fosston officials say that no matter what the end result is, though, the city will fight for its community.

“I think they really took this community for granted, and I keep thinking they’ll come to their senses and realize that we are for real, we’re legitimate, we’re going to get what we deserve and we’re going to fight to that end, and we’re not there yet, so that’s why arbitration is scheduled,” added Heide.

Arbitration is scheduled for July 8-11 at the Polk County Courthouse, although that date may change.

Lakeland News is member supported content, please consider supporting Lakeland PBS today.

Support the Businesses That Support Lakeland PBS

Related News