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Wilderness Health selected for rural health award

The collaborative of Northland health care providers earned the 2022 Minnesota Rural Health Team Award because of its contribution to improving rural health care in the state.

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Lake View Hospital in Two Harbors and other members of the Wilderness Health nonprofit collaborative received the 2022 Minnesota Rural Health Team Award.
Tyler Schank / 2020 file / Duluth News Tribune
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TWO HARBORS — Wilderness Health, a collaborative organization of Northland health care providers, has been selected by the Minnesota Department of Health for one of its rural health awards. Wilderness Health will receive the 2022 Minnesota Rural Health Team Award in recognition of the organization's contributions to improving rural health care in Minnesota.

Wilderness Health, which was created in 2013, is a nonprofit collaborative that includes:

  • Bigfork Valley Hospital in Bigfork;
  • Community Memorial Hospital in Cloquet;
  • Cook Hospital in Cook;
  • Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital in Ely;
  • Fairview Range/Range Regional Health Services in Hibbing;
  • Grand Itasca Clinic and Hospital (Fairview Health Service) in Grand Rapids;
  • Lake View Hospital (St. Luke's) in Two Harbors;
  • North Shore Health in Grand Marais; and
  • St. Luke's in Duluth.

"Wilderness Health is honored to be recognized for this rural health team award," said Greg Ruberg, board chair and president and CEO of Lake View Hospital. "This reinforces our commitment to supporting patients, hospitals and health systems, and rural health care across Northeastern Minnesota."
Executive Director Cassandra Beardsley said the charter of Wilderness Health members has been integral for small, rural hospitals to maintain independence while sharing a network of resources and ideas. She said the recognition means a lot for the independent health care systems and the communities they serve.

“I think it’s a really good reflection of the work that our independent hospitals are doing collectively together to really support local control of healthcare within their communities," Beardsley said.

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Each health care system has a representative who sits on Wilderness Health's board of directors, and each board member's vote holds the same weight in decision making, regardless of facility size. Representatives meet regularly for round table discussions and training.

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Beardsley said the partnership was especially critical during the many surges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Members collaborated to share resources, personal protective equipment, and even patients when hospital beds were in short supply. Being part of Wilderness Health allowed the small facilities to operate in some ways like a larger system while maintaining autonomy.

“It’s really that ability to maintain independence but yet work with a network that’s key," Beardsley said. "And its really evolved through the years.”

She said expanding telehealth services has also been an important step in connecting rural citizens to the quality care they need.

The Minnesota Rural Health Association, the Duluth-based National Rural Health Resource Center and MDH will present the 2022 Minnesota Rural Health Awards on Nov. 17, which is National Rural Health Day. Dr. Rozalina McCoy at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester will receive the 2022 Minnesota Rural Health Hero Award and Dr. Wesley O. Ofstedal, medical director of Living Center at Essentia Health-Fosston, will receive the 2022 Minnesota Rural Health Lifetime Achievement Award.

The winners will also be honored at the 2023 Minnesota Rural Health Conference in Duluth on June 12-13.

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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