Virginia council approves hospital deal with Duluth's EssentiaMayor Steve Peterson voted against affiliation, citing what he called past broken promises by Essentia in relation to the clinic it runs adjacent to the hospital.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
VIRGINIA — On a 5-2 vote, the Virginia City Council on Tuesday approved an affiliation deal with Duluth’s Essentia Health, sacrificing local control of the city-owned Virginia Regional Medical Center in return for a multimillion-dollar cash infusion.
Approval of the deal, which had been explored for two years, required a two-thirds majority, meaning one more “no” vote would have sunk the proposal. Mayor Steve Peterson, who voted against affiliation along with Councilor Nevada Littlewolf, tried to rally other councilors to his side, citing what he called past broken promises by Essentia in relation to the clinic it runs adjacent to the hospital.
“I haven’t seen anything in my time that has shown me Essentia has been a good neighbor and a good corporate partner in this community,” said Peterson in front of about 70 people who filled council chambers. “We have lost many services over the years. I don’t know why that would change.”
Littlewolf said she saw an advantage to having the same health system responsible for both the clinic and the hospital. But the loss of local control was disturbing, she said.
“Essentia could make a decision ... and we wouldn’t have any say over that,” Littlewolf said. “We are going to give up our hospital to a corporate entity.”
But several councilors said the city had no better choice, citing the hospital’s declining infrastructure and weak revenues.
“The infrastructure up there definitely needs a cash infusion,” Councilor Mike Ralston said. “We need new equipment. We need upgrades to facilities. That burden would fall on the taxpayers of the city of Virginia.”
Councilor Don Sipola said it made sense to work with the same partner in the hospital as in the clinic. Besides, he said, no other choice is available.
“In spite of, perhaps, a desire to have a better deal or another option, there is no Plan B,” Sippola said.
Peterson disagreed, saying St. Luke’s hospital and Fairview Health Systems both offered proposals that never had been given serious consideration.
But Councilor Louis Russo raised the prospect of losing the hospital if the council didn’t act.
“I’ve been a patient there,” he said. “We have a great staff. How would you like to lose that whole thing?”
The vote came 90 minutes into the meeting, to a smattering of applause from audience members.
Key Essentia executives Dan McGinty and Dr. Dan Nikcevich attended, along with several Virginia Regional Medical Center administrators.
“I feel the real winners here are the patients in the city of Virginia along with the surrounding area, and the employees and the staff,” Nikcevich said after the vote, adding that Essentia would be able to provide a sustainable future for the hospital.
Peterson said he was disappointed but not surprised by the vote.
“It’s not the road I wanted to go down, but it’s the road we’re going to take,” he said. “I won’t be battling this.”
However, just before the vote, Peterson issued a direct challenge to the Essentia executives.
“Essentia, I might not be here (as mayor), but if you don’t take care of that hospital, I’m going to come after you,” he said. ”I want it done right.”