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Amy Dalrymple, Forum Communications, Published July 30 2012

Hospital CEO seeks help from region

WILLISTON, N.D. – North Dakota should dream big to meet the health care needs of the Oil Patch, the CEO of Williston’s hospital said Monday.

Matt Grimshaw, who leads Mercy Medical Center, told a group of legislators that the state should create a state-of-the art center in Williston to train nurses, physicians, lab technicians and a broad spectrum of health care professionals.

As North Dakota’s population explodes, and the demographics in the western part of the state change, developing home-grown health care professionals is the long-term solution to meeting the health care needs, Grimshaw said.

“I really believe we need to rethink the mindset at the state level for how we train health care professionals,” Grimshaw told members of the Legislature’s Higher Education Committee.

The Williston facility, which Grimshaw believes is the fastest-growing hospital in the country, has 450 employees and 50 vacancies. The staff turnover rate is about 40 percent, which Grimshaw called unsustainable.

Meanwhile, the medical center continues to set new records in the numbers of ER visits, births and clinic patients.

“The hard reality to grasp is we are still in the acceleration phase,” Grimshaw said.

A new educational model could integrate programs from the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences and Williston State College with the educational opportunities at Mercy Medical Center and other regional partners, Grimshaw said.

“Let’s train the next generation of students here,” he said.

Joshua Wynne, dean of the medical school and UND’s vice president of health sciences, told legislators that physicians who are trained in North Dakota and do their residency in the state are more likely to work in the state.

UND is working to meet the needs of western North Dakota, including expanding student and residency experiences in Williston, Wynne said.

The medical school has roughly 30 first-year residency slots in North Dakota. Legislators approved an additional nine spots per year during the last legislative session, and a budget request legislators will consider next session would fund another eight positions, Wynne said.

Wynne said he urged fully funding the new residency positions last session because there’s lag time before the additional physicians can move through the pipeline.

“Anything we do now takes years to pay off,” Wynne said. “The need is now, but the need is not going to diminish in the future. We do need to act now.”

Dalrymple is a Forum Communications Co. reporter stationed in the Oil Patch. She can be reached at adalrymple@forumcomm.com or (701) 580-6890.

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