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Northland health systems get $1.7 million for ultrasound equipment

The money is part of a $26 million statewide grant from the Helmsley Charitable Trust to expand emergency health care resources in rural areas.

A woman is viewed from behind administering an ultrasound test on a patient, with the screen showing the ultrasound
Grants from the Helmsley Charitable Trust will provide ultrasound equipment to several Northland hospitals and nearly 100 hospitals across Minnesota.
Contributed / Dirk Lammers

MINNEAPOLIS — Several Northland health care systems have been awarded grants from the Helmsley Charitable Trust to purchase ultrasound imaging equipment for their rural hospitals. The grants are part of a $26.4 million statewide award given to just under 100 hospitals and health service centers.

The area hospitals receiving grants include:

  • Bigfork Valley Hospital, $102,400.
  • Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital in Ely, $285,654.
  • Essentia Health Virginia, $297,376.
  • Grand Itasca Clinic and Hospital in Grand Rapids, $335,587.
  • Lake View Hospital (St. Luke's) in Two Harbors, $253,075.
  • North Shore Health in Grand Marais, $207,235.
  • Riverwood Healthcare Center in Aitkin, McGregor and Garrison; $233,092.

The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust is a private health grantmaking foundation. The trust's recent grant has purchased about 200 ultrasound devices for Minnesota hospitals, including point-of-care ultrasound machines, general ultrasound systems and cardiovascular ultrasound systems.
Point-of-care ultrasound machines are used at the bedside of a patient for immediate assessment, and can diagnose conditions including internal bleeding, collapsed lungs, ruptured aortic aneurysms and about 60 other life-threatening problems that require immediate diagnosis and intervention, according to David Plummer, a Hennepin Healthcare doctor of emergency medicine who was among the first in the country to study the efficacy of ultrasound systems in emergency care.

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"Patients who benefit from point-of-care ultrasound are not uniquely confined to larger, urban trauma centers," Plummer said. "Patients with that long list of conditions that I referred to come into every emergency department everywhere. ... This equipment at the bedside will help all of our colleagues around the state who are excellent, they just need a good tool in their hand in order to do the same, really rapid diagnosis and disposition and interventions as large trauma centers."

Kimber Wraalstad, chief executive officer and administrator of North Shore Health, said the Grand Marais hospital has already begun using its point-of-care ultrasound machine, and will receive a general ultrasound system soon.


"Just last week I was talking with one of the providers and I asked if he was using the ultrasound machine, and he said he'd feel naked without it and he uses it every time he's here," Wraalstad said. "It just makes a difference in his level of comfort and his ability to care for the patient."

Helmsley trustee Walter Panzirer said during a Tuesday news conference at Hennepin Healthcare in Minneapolis that the technology will help millions of Minnesotans access high-quality health care with the faster diagnostic capabilities the ultrasounds will bring.

"I often say that your ZIP code should not determine your health care outcomes, but unfortunately, it does," Panzirer said.

The grant includes about $8 million to go toward training. The Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians Foundation will help teach providers to use their new equipment. St. Cloud Technical & Community College and the Minnesota Rural Health Association are expanding their sonographer training programs.

Dr. Robert Reardon, medical director at Hennepin Healthcare's emergency department and professor of emergency medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School, said there's been a high interest from rural providers to learn how to use point-of-care ultrasound equipment. However, there hasn't been enough time to train providers during one- or two-day classes, and the equipment itself has been inaccessible to some health systems because of the cost.

"We have 40 or 50 instructors, which is a lot, and they've all volunteered their time over the years. Now we're going to be able to pay them through the grant to actually go out and do longitudinal training," Reardon said. They will have three years of continuous training, along with quality assurance and teletraining.

Rainy Lake Medical Center in International Falls also received a portion of the funding. Duluth-based Essentia Health received grants for four of its other Minnesota hospitals in Ada, Detroit Lakes, Fosston and Graceville.

Laura Butterbrodt covers health for the Duluth News Tribune. She has a bachelor of arts in journalism from South Dakota State University and has been working as a reporter in Minnesota and South Dakota since 2014.
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