The Long Way Home 11.24.23

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 hard-working 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.