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The Long Way Home 

Sometimes, it takes a dramatic and person­al event to energize people to rise up and de­mand change.

On November 16, I did something I dread almost as much as going to the dentist. I hopped in Miss Daisy, the family Chevy, and drove to the local non-profit hospital to attend a meeting of its board of directors. I went be­cause the county had a fervor over the sum­mary dismissal of a beloved local physician who worked in the North Shore Health (NSH) ER.

I confess to getting some joy from seeing people energized to stand up and demand ac­countability, especially when they are shocked by the actions and deceit of local elected offi­cials and the bureaucrats who try to lead them by the nose.

Such accountability is rare, especially in a small Minnesota county like ours.

Dr. Bruce Dahlman has practiced medicine for almost 40 years, nearly all in Cook Coun­ty. According to the press release issued by the hospital board following the meeting, his performance is above reproach. Everyone I talk with, from former patients to co-workers, speaks glowingly of his personality, profes­sionalism, and expertise.

Hospital CEO Kimber Wraalstad has been the hospital administrator for over a decade. Someone told me she’s a good and hardworking person, dedicated to her job and community. Others paint a darker picture.

The five board members, elected to the position by county voters, sat quietly and listened as each person spoke of a toxic work environment at NSH that has existed for years.

In the summer of 2022, the local radio sta­tion WTIP prepared a report on staffing problems at the hospital. They interviewed 18 current and former staff members who described a toxic culture that led to the departure of co-workers and difficulty hiring replace­ments. As of today, the hospital board made no significant changes to mitigate the troubles identified in this report.

Asked about the dismissal of Dr. Dahlman by the local weekly newspaper this month, the hospital CEO issued a statement, repeated by the board chair at this meeting, that NSH had no input or control over the termination. The profit-seeking contractor, Wapiti, did it all.

As each person spoke well and honest­ly about a community tragedy, they made it clear that they did not believe these state­ments from the administrator. They think that Wraalstad and the board were behind the ending of Dahlman’s employment. That senti­ment is based in no small part on the fact that the “non-renewal” letter the doctor received from Wapiti said so.

Most people leave a job because of poor managers. People have been leaving the hospital in droves because one or more administration members run a rudderless and vindic­tive organization. The board, in this instance, is complicit.

It is evident from community rumor mills and social media, the WTIP article last year, and the recent board meeting testimony, that Wraalstad is an ineffective leader of the institution.

As someone with some leadership experience, I know leadership is an art, not a science. Sadly, some good people who aren’t leadership artists rise to leadership positions. We used to call it the “Peter Principle.”

The people crowding the board room on the 16th demand accountability, not lies.

In our growing community, visited by 1.3 million tourists each year, our hospital needs a leader with followers who would run through fire for a leader they trust to ensure the community has access to compassionate care, the stated mission of NSH.

Steve Fernlund
Steve Fernlund
Typically these “about me” pages include a list of academic achievements (I have none) and positions held (I have had many, but who really cares about those?) So, in the words of the late Admiral James Stockwell, “Who am I? Why am I here?” I’m well into my seventh decade on this blue planet we call home. I’m a pretty successful husband, father, and grandfather, at least in my humble opinion. My progeny may disagree. We have four children and five grandchildren. I spent most of my professional life in the freight business. At the tender age of 40, early retirement beckoned and we moved to Grand Marais. A year after we got here, we bought and operated the Cook County News Herald, a weekly newspaper in Grand Marais. A sharp learning curve for a dumb freight broker to become a newspaper editor and publisher. By 1999 the News Herald was an acquisition target for a rapidly consolidating media market. We sold our businesses and “retired” again, buying a winter retreat in Nevada. In the fall of 2016, we returned to Grand Marais and bought a house from old friends of ours on the ridge overlooking Lake Superior. They were able to move closer to family and their Mexico winter home. And we came home to what we say is our last house. I’m a strong believer in the value of local newspapers--both online and those you can wrap a fish in. I write a weekly column and a couple of feature stories for the Northshore Journal. I’m most interested in writing about the everyday lives of local people and reporting on issues of importance to them.
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