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The Long Way Home

North Shore Health (NSH), after a closed session meeting with its legal counsel, submit­ted its first brief to the court of public opin­ion late on January 25. Titled appropriately enough, “Findings of Facts and Conclusions,” a legal term of art, it was presented as a press release of almost 3,000 words.

It was, in sum, tedious and condescending to former employees and members of the pub­lic who have complained over the last few months in social media and news outlets about management failings and an opaque response from elected directors.

Complaints about the management and work environment at North Shore Health ar­en’t exactly news. Many of us in Cook County know, at least in passing, several employees and former employees who have shared sto­ries of management failures there.

In 2022, local radio station WTIP presented an in-depth article about the complaints they’d uncovered. There isn’t much evidence that the article led to meaningful changes, so one as­sumes those issues have simmered at NSH.

When Dr. Bruce Dahlman, a longtime and well thought of local doctor who worked for decades at the NSH Emergency Room, was sum­marily terminated last fall, the simmering boiled over. During those years, Dr. Dahl­man was retained by an out-of-town staffing agency that provides medical professionals to NSH.

At its November 2023 Board meeting, the NSH board room was filled with residents, and many took up an expanded public comment sec­tion to express dismay and anger over the termi­nation.

Following that meeting, a group of concerned citizens created an online petition asking the NSH Board to reinstate Dr. Dahlman and consid­er replacing CEO Kimber Wralstad. In less than a week, the petition had more than 700 signers. When NSH made it clear they were contemplat­ing legal action for defamation against members of the public, the petition was withdrawn.

Too many in leadership positions who face difficult situations raise the sandbags, use the gaslight, and generally hunker down. That was the choice made by NSH.

Now, the brief they’ve filed in our court of public opinion addresses “three issues.” Dr. Dahlman’s termination, ambulance services, and laboratory operations.

Almost half of NSH’s words focused on Dr. Dahlman in “Findings of Fact and Conclu­sions.”

I want to be fair to NSH because, in the con­clusion of the brief, they write, “Additionally, the personal attacks from these physicians (local docs from SMC) and others on the members of the Board and Administration have been grossly unfair.” But it’s hard not to say, “Grow up” to the NSH Board and management. Life isn’t fair.

The WTIP report in 2022 revealed that NSH was in a deep hole as far as its employees were concerned. The hole deepened when Dr. Dahl­man was forced out. There is a well-known rule of holes, stated well by the late columnist Molly Ivins, “When you’re in a hole, stop digging.”

Everything the NSH leadership has done since Dr. Dahlman’s termination digs the hole deeper. The current 3,000-word brief does more harm than it may have intended.

Covering up a hole, fighting back if you will, billable hours and spilled ink will not make the anger disappear.

The people who prepared a petition follow­ing the November board meeting have co­alesced into a group called Cook County Cit­izens Concerned with Health Care (CCCHC), and they will remember and keep going.

And former workers, fairly disgruntled or not, will remember too.

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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