CRMC board hears public concerns for staffing, care levels

CROSBY - About 30 people stood silently around a long table of the Cuyuna Regional Medical Center (CRMC) Governing board Monday night unsure if they'd able to speak.

Roger Twigg (center), Cuyuna Regional Medical Center Governing board chairman and John Solheim, CEO, listen to a report during the yearly organizational meeting. Members of the public lined the walls bringing concerns for patient care and staffing levels. Renee Richardson/Brainerd Dispatch

CROSBY - About 30 people stood silently around a long table of the Cuyuna Regional Medical Center (CRMC) Governing board Monday night unsure if they'd able to speak.

But before the meeting was over several had the opportunity to voice concerns about staffing levels, difficult working conditions and the level of care, particularly in CRMC's Care Center. Roger Twigg, governing board chairman, said those concerns will be addressed and care of patients is still the overriding mission of the medical center.

"I think the concerns were real and genuine and we'll look into them," Twigg said.

Gathered outside the board room before the meeting were employees, union stewards, Care Center residents and members of the public. Once the meeting started, they lined the walls of the small room. Some said they were there simply to show support for the employees. At first it wasn't certain any of the nearly 30 people in attendance, most standing around the board table during the meeting, would be allowed to speak.

When the board meeting started, Twigg said everyone was welcome but they would not be entertaining comments from the public at the yearly organizational meeting.


Before the meeting, Kris Hasskamp, former area legislator, said she's heard concerns about staff turnover and that long-term local employees are being moved out.

While waiting outside the board room, Hasskamp said she thought that was a mistake and would only make more problems. Hasskamp said people need to feel they are being heard.

"I've never seen this before, this kind of concern by those who are part of the community and those who have worked here for years," Hasskamp said.

About an hour into the meeting, with the agenda completed, board member Richard Schiller moved to amend the agenda to allow two spokespeople from those attending to speak. When John Solheim, CEO, asked about time limits, Schiller suggested a combined 15 minutes for the speakers.

The motion carried unanimously from the governing board, which has 18 members.

Hasskamp spoke first. She suggested the board, which was getting reports on the medical center and its clinics and programs, open its agenda to hear from different elements of its staff as well.

"I've been hearing rumbling," Hasskamp said, adding people are concerned because of patient care. Hasskamp said the medical center's growth from a small community hospital has been impressive but the human touch can be lost as the organization gets larger. She urged the board to hear what employees are saying.

The other speaker was Judy Fort, who spoke as a family member of someone in the care center. As people live longer, Fort said, residents coming to the care center have more problems and need more care.


"We need more people," Fort said, adding what may be lawful for staffing levels may not be ethical. She said nursing aides are running their legs off but there aren't enough of them.

"You simply have to have more boots on the ground," Fort said, adding she's at the care center four days a week and sees what is happening. Care center residents need help getting out of bed, getting to the bathroom and to the lunch room. Outside the meeting, an employee said residents have waited so long for assistance, they've soiled themselves.

Jessica Green, a charge nurse in the care center, said because there are so many open positions now, she just finished a 17-hour shift with one 15-minute break. "That's not unusual anymore," Green said.

One woman noted the CRMC can-do slogan.

"We don't have the opportunity to show we can do anymore, because we are all burned out."

After hearing from Hasskamp and Fort, Twig told the group they could be assured the board would look into their concerns through its committee process.

Board member Al Ebnet said he sees what's going on at the care center, too, as far as staffing. Nurses and aides are running to get the work done and can't handle all the tasks put on them. It seems, Ebnet said, staffing numbers have decreased and the people who are there can only do so much. Ebnet said he's also heard of employees leaving and he asked about hospital staffing levels.

Solheim said most days they are staffed appropriately and when they haven't been they've transferred patients to other care facilities. When asked about staff to patient ratios at the care center, the board was told the levels were about one to six, staff to residents. Green said that may be true when they are fully staffed but currently the staffing levels are one staff to 12 or 13 residents.


Twig said the next step is to have the senior service committee look at the issue and bring a recommendation back to the board. The committee sessions are not open to the public, but board meetings are. The senior service committee meets next month. Asked how the public can get on the agenda, Twigg said they'd need to speak to Solheim. Solheim said it's not the normal process to include public comments.

Mary Aulie, a biller in the CRMC Care Center, said she's worked at CRMC for seven years.

"They have forced a lot of people out," Aulie said before the meeting. "... and they're trying to do it to me right now but I'm not quitting."

During the session, Aulie asked what process she could use if she's already been through the regular channels as an employee. Solheim said 75 percent of employees are covered by their union bargaining units and that's the process Aulie has to follow. Solheim said they don't discuss employee issues in a public forum. "We won't do that," Solheim said.

After the meeting ended, Aulie said of employee concerns: "I think it's just the tip of the iceberg. I think it's just getting started."

Another woman wondered if the board was aware Solheim had a vote of no-confidence from the medical staff at his previous position at St. Peter's Hospital in Montana. In 2012, the Billings Gazette reported more than half the medical staff at St. Peter's Hospital wrote in 2008 to the hospital board to say bullying and antagonistic administrative attitude was significantly to blame for a high rate of doctor turnover.

Twigg said the board was fully aware of the vote of no-confidence against Solheim in Montana, and he personally contacted the board in Montana and learned Solheim had the board's support. Solheim came in after longtime CEO Tom Reek retired. Twigg compared it to a coaching change, where the new coach brings in his own staff. He also said the incoming coach will have a different leadership style but the board believed Solheim was the one who could take them to the next level with their vision and tradition. Twigg said in order to survive as an independent medical center in a competitive market, they need to grow and in the last three years have grown by 50 percent. But patient care remains the priority, Twigg said.

"The board isn't going to turn a deaf ear," Twigg said, adding the members of the public made great comments worth merit.

Hasskamp was impressed the board members recognized the need to hear from member sof the public and voted to allow it. Hasskamp said it left her hopeful about the outcome.

Verna Spalj, 89, a 17-year care center resident, spoke in the hallway after the meeting, seated in her wheelchair. She said she loved it when she first went to live there but in the last two or three years it went down to something terrible.

"We don't have the help," Spalj said, adding there can be a half-hour wait to get assistance to the bathroom, something others will realize the severity of when they get old.

"I want to stay in my hometown," Spalj said. "I hope the board can do something for us. I hope it helped all of us coming tonight."

RENEE RICHARDSON, senior reporter, may be reached at 855-5852 or . Follow on Twitter at .

Related Topics: CROSBY
Renee Richardson is managing editor at the Brainerd Dispatch. She joined the Brainerd Dispatch in 1996 after earning her bachelor's degree in mass communications at St. Cloud State University.
Renee Richardson can be reached at or by calling 218-855-5852 or follow her on Twitter @dispatchbizbuzz or Facebook.
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