New Years baby

James Sheridan and Maddy Mettler, of International Falls, pose for a photo with their newborn son, Huntley Gust Sheridan, who weighed 8 pounds, 3 ounces and measured 20 inches long. Huntley was the first baby born at Essentia Health — Virginia in 2020. Huntley was welcomed home by older siblings Emilie, Braden and Hudson.

Borderland may not have its new year’s baby until later this year, but a local woman gave birth to the first baby of 2020 born in the city of Virginia.

With Rainy Lake Medical Center temporarily unable to deliver babies, Maddy Mettler and her fiance, James Sheridan, got in their vehicle to head south when she started having contractions Jan. 2.

“I wasn’t sure if I was really in labor,” Mettler said, adding she went to work that morning, thinking the contractions would subside. “I didn’t want to go all the way to Virginia if it was a false alarm.”

Mettler wasn’t due until Jan. 11, but when the contractions continued, the 100-mile trip became necessary. By the time the couple was between Orr and Cook, contractions became more intense and Mettler admitted she was unsure she was going to make it to the hospital.

“I was kind of freaking out,” she said.

The couple was checked in at Essentia Health – Virginia at 8:13 a.m. Their son, Huntley, was born 18 minutes later. Mettler said she hardly had time to process what was happening.

“The doctor barely got her stuff on to deliver him,” she said. “I just remember her saying the baby was coming right now... I pushed four times and he was here.”

Local solutions

Expectant mothers in Borderland may find themselves in a similar situation to Mettler when they go into labor, said RLMC CEO Robert Pastor.

“We’re on divert (to other hospitals to deliver babies) for the month of January and possibly February,” he said. “The challenge is we don’t have someone on-call for a (Cesarean) section 24/7.”

Last month, Dr. Kimberly VerSteeg, the facility’s full-time obstetrician and gynecologist, or OB/Gyn, decided to pursue other career opportunities. She had been at RLMC since 2015.

However, even with VerSteeg, Pastor said coverage wasn’t available 100 percent of the time.

“We still had pockets of time we still had to be on divert,” he said, adding about 40 babies were born at RLMC in 2019.

While RLMC staff search for solutions, Pastor said the challenge isn’t unique to Borderland. Many rural community hospitals across the country also experience shortages in OB coverage.

“We know how significant OB service is to have in Borderland,” Pastor said. “We’re committed to figuring this out.”

While details aren’t yet available, Pastor said a team is working on a community initiative to help recruit to the area physicians who can deliver babies.

“We’ll be extending the incentive offered to employees to everyone in the community,” he said, adding more information will be provided soon. “We also plan to meet with community stakeholders to discuss ways to continue OB services locally.”

In addition, Dr. Scott Johnson, OB/Gyn, is expected to see patients at RLMC twice a month starting in February.

“We’re excited about that,” Pastor said.

Johnson has previous connections to the community and has been in practice for more than 30 years. He is currently working at Grand Itasca Clinic & Hospital in Grand Rapids.

2019 successes

While finding an OB solution remains a challenge, there have been many successes at RLMC over the past year, Pastor said.

The CEO, who has been with the facility since September 2018, excitedly explained a jump in the company’s employee engagement scores.

“When I started, (the scores) were in the 22nd percentile,” he said. “In less than a year, we moved up and are in the 71st percentile – we jumped 49 percentage points.”

The scores are determined by how much ownership employees feel in the company and how connected they are to the organization.

“I was told it would be hard to get above 43 percent,” Pastor said. “I knew we could do better... we’re committed to engaging employees on every level. I feel like we’ve been really successful... and we don’t plan to stop there.”

In addition, he said at the beginning of 2019, staff set organizational goals that were on display throughout the year.

“We hit three of our five goals and were close on the other two,” Pastor said. “It’s been a great year and I’m blown away over how far we’ve come.”

Pastor also highlighted last summer’s announcement of the partnership with Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota to access to the industry’s most advanced medical health record system, called Epic.

Epic provides doctors, nurses and other medical professionals in outpatient and inpatient settings a seamless means of collecting, storing, accessing and securing a patient’s medical information in an electronic format. That single chart follows a patient through all areas they receive care.

“This means that regardless where a patient may access care across our health systems, their comprehensive medical record will be available to their providers, nurses and other health professionals,” Pastor said in a news release published earlier in The Journal.

Last week, Pastor referred to the implementation of Epic a major goal that he and staff “worked really hard on.”

Looking ahead

Looking ahead into 2020, Pastor said a top goal is finding more providers who are a good fit to the RLMC team.

“We want people who fit into our culture,” Pastor said. “We’ve got a lot of good, positive things coming in the new year.”

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