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Health Notes: New lounge gives families place to relax at Essentia

Joann Martens (left) describes how her daughter, Charissa Nagle (right) required care in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, or NICU, at St. Mary’s when she was born. The two often meet in the new Ronald McDonald Family Lounge at Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Medical Center. Nagle’s baby boy is being cared for in the newer NICU facility next door to the lounge. (Bob King / / 4
Charissa Nagle of Duluth carefully puts her 6-day-old baby, Ryker, back into his bed in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Medical Center on Wednesday. Nagle spends a lot of time at the unit and appreciates the Ronald McDonald Family Lounge right next door. (Bob King / / 4
The lounge at the new Ronald McDonald Family Lounge features comfortable chairs, a fireplace, books and toys for children and a window view onto Fourth Street. (Bob King / / 4
Grant Hoel of Duluth appreciates the private lockers in the new Ronald McDonald Family Lounge next door to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, or NICU, at Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Medical Center. He and his wife, Danielle, have twins who are being cared for in the NICU. (Bob King / / 4

Ronald McDonald doesn’t have a house in Duluth, but now he has a lounge.

The clown who represents the ubiquitous fast-food chain has houses named after him in communities such as Rochester and Minneapolis, where families can live while their children are hospitalized.

The Ronald McDonald Family Lounge, a homelike suite of rooms adjacent to Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Children’s Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, performs a similar function.

The lounge is equipped with furniture, a TV, fireplace, space for private discussions, a common eating area and oven, a pantry for food and beverages, entertainment options for children and amenities such as laundry service.

Although officially dedicated on Wednesday, the area has been in use for the last eight weeks, said Kari Tchida, NICU nurse manager. Some finishing touches aren’t quite in place. There’s water in the saltwater aquarium, but no fish, because the salt needs to settle first, Tchida said. Eventually, children will recognize some of their favorite fish from “Finding Nemo,” she said.

It’s specifically for NICU families, Tchida said. On average, 12 to 13 babies at a time are cared for in the NICU, she said.

Joann Martens of Duluth has been enjoying the lounge during the past week.

In January 1985, Martens gave birth to a girl who was treated in the old St. Mary’s NICU for a couple of weeks before being transferred for further treatment at the University of Minnesota.

Her daughter survived and thrived, grew up and gave birth to her second son a week ago at the St. Mary’s Birthing Center. Born at 37 weeks, Charisssa Nagle’s baby boy Ryker developed some complications and has been cared for in the new NICU, which opened last summer. He was doing well Wednesday and is expected to be able to go home soon.

Nagle has stayed in the hospital almost constantly since Ryker was born, sleeping on the pullout bed in his room. She has used the family lounge for showers and to entertain her 7-year-old son, Hunter, when he was brought for a visit.

Martens has spent a lot of time there, too, and she was struck by the contrast with her experience as a mom 29 years ago.

 “We were blessed, because if it hadn’t been for the NICU then, she wouldn’t have survived,” Martens said. “But to see the changes and improvements they’ve made to help families stay — because that’s one of the hardest things, is going home without your baby.”

The McDonald’s northeast co-op of 19 restaurants along with Ronald McDonald House Charities-Upper Midwest raised $180,000 to open the new space.

All of the money raised through the canister program at area McDonald’s restaurants during the past two years helped pay for the Family Lounge, according to a McDonald’s news release.

Rural health conference set

The annual Minnesota Rural Health Conference will take place Monday and Tuesday at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.

More than 500 health care professionals, educators, state health workers, policymakers and students are expected to attend, according to a news release from the National Rural Health Resource Center. It sponsors the event, along with the Minnesota Department of Health’s Office of Rural Health and Primary Care and the Minnesota Rural Health Association.

The screening gap Minnesotans with public health insurance are much less likely to be screened for colorectal cancer than those on private plans.

That’s the conclusion of the seventh annual Health Care Disparities Report conducted by MN Community Measurement and sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

In 2013, 51.8 percent of Minnesota Medicaid-covered adults ages 50 to 75 were screened for colon cancer, compared with 71.8 percent of those covered by other types of insurance, the American Cancer Society said in a news release.

That’s the largest disparity among the 13 measures tracked by the report.

Colon cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States.

Breast cancer awareness at the mine Hibbing Taconite is adding a touch of pink to its mining operation to show its support for breast cancer awareness.

The parent company, Cliffs Natural Resources, announced that the pink mining production truck will be unveiled in July. The truck will have a pink truck box and carry the Susan G. Komen slogan, “Proudly Supporting Breast Cancer Awareness.”

The truck box is expected to arrive in Hibbing on July 9, according to a Cliffs news release, and it will be entered in the Hibbing Jubilee Parade on July 12.

After that, it will be transported to Hibbing Taconite and put to work on a production truck. It will be visible from Hibbing Mine View.

Group explores health gap A group that’s exploring health disparities in Duluth will meet on Wednesday.

The Health and Wellness Table will meet from 6:30-8 p.m. in the lower level of the former Lincoln School, 2424 W. Fifth St.

More than 120 people gathered for an initial meeting on May 19 at the Damiano Center Soup Kitchen.

Help for families of the mentally ill A support group for families who have a member with a mental illness meets at 6 p.m. on the last Tuesday of the month in Conference Room 3 at Essentia Health Duluth (Miller-Dwan), 502 E. Second St.

The support group gathering is followed by an educational meeting from 7-8 p.m.

It’s sponsored by the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Minnesota.

For information, call (218) 409-6566.

How to deal with diabetes Various Essentia Health clinics are offering a program for people living with diabetes called “Living Well.”

The classes will take place on the following schedule:

* Hermantown Clinic, 4855 W. Arrowhead Road, 5:30-6:30 p.m. the first Wednesday of each month beginning Aug. 6

* West Duluth Clinic, 4212 Grand Ave., 5:30-6:30 p.m. the first Monday of each month beginning Aug. 4.

* Superior Clinic, 3500 Tower Ave., 4:30-5:30 p.m. the fourth Tuesday of each month, beginning Aug. 26.

The classes are free but space is limited, so registration is required. Spouses and significant others are encouraged to attend. Call the Diabetes Center at (218) 786-1468 to register.