Business of the Monticello-Big Lake Community Hospital District and New River Medical Center is governed by an eight-member board that includes one at-large representative plus one resident each from the cities of Monticello, Big Lake and Otsego and the townships of Monticello, Big Lake, Becker and Silver Creek.
Four of the eight seats go up for election each even-numbered year, and filings that were open over two weeks last month drew multiple candidates for the Monticello and Big Lake city seats, the Silver Creek Township seat and the district’s at-large seat.
Former area school superintendent Sheldon Johnson filed for Monticello’s city seat as an incumbent, as he was appointed to the role Aug. 9 of this year or two days into the filing period. Dr. Joseph Mahoney vacated the seat last spring.
Johnson had attended one committee meeting as a hospital board member before an interview last week. “I’ve been trying to get myself up to speed, been doing a lot of reading of past policies that have been adopted,” he said. “I feel a tremendous responsibility in representing the city of Monticello and the whole hospital district.”
One challenger for the Monticello seat, Barbara Scanlon, previously served on the board as a resident of Silver Creek but vacated that seat with a move out of the district into Clear Lake.
Scanlon said she has worked as a nurse at clinics in Hibbing, New Prague and Anoka, and in her retirement she has volunteered four hours every Friday greeting and guiding patients and other visitors from an NRMC help desk.
A third candidate for the Monticello seat, Bill Mickle, could not be reached for comment before this edition went to press. Candidates for each of the hospital district seats will be invited to share more about their plans prior to Election Day.
Three candidates for the Silver Creek Township seat include incumbent Brian Doyle, who is seeking a second four-year term.
“I’m very positive about the hospital and its future,” said Doyle, a retired school media supervisor. He noted the hospital operations are on track to be taken over by a 501(c)(3) organization early in the next term. “I believe in our employees,” he said. “My priority would be to make sure our existing employees don’t get lost in the shuffle.”
One of Doyle’s challengers is Dr. Alyas Masih, a family practitioner who has worked at the Monticello Clinic three years. He worked in hospital management through most of the 1990s in Pakistan, after completing a degree in England, and he has practiced medicine for about 10 years in Minnesota with work in Hallock, Warroad and St. Cloud before coming to Monticello.
A third candidate from Silver Creek, Douglas Schneider, could not be reached for information.
Ervin Danielowski, current chair of the hospital board, did not file for re-election as the Big Lake city representative. He could not be reached for comment.
Candidate Marvin Rydberg had served three consecutive terms through 2008 before losing a bid for re-election four years ago.
“They need help (on the board),” said Rydberg, a retired director of computer services from Anoka-Ramsey Community College, who expressed disappointment over the recent suspension of obstetrics at NRMC due to staffing levels. “With a nice birthing center in here, and now mothers must go another 15 minutes somewhere else, that’s crazy.”
Big Lake candidate Thomas Campbell said he filed for office because he knew Danielowski was not running. Campbell has a financial background and has served on the hospital’s financial advisory board. “I want to stay involved. I just thought that this would be the next progression to getting even more involved,” he said.
Silver Creek resident Linda Doerr, incumbent candidate for the at-large seat, is seeking a ninth consecutive term.
“I think it’s fantastic in our community that we’re able to provide health care and we’re able to provide jobs. I’d like to see that continue in the future,” said Doerr, a CEO for St. Benedict Senior Communities in Monticello and St. Cloud. “One thing (New River is) not meeting right now is demand. We’d really like to grow our market share.”
Bruce Hamond, of Monticello, is challenging for the at-large seat after serving on the board previously as his city representative. He finished within 0.35 percent of Mahoney for the Monticello seat when they ran in 2008, with Hamond totaling 1,771 votes to 1,785 cast for Mahoney.
Hamond notes he did not challenge the result. “It was a very close race. I knew he was running. I asked him to run, and he won,” Hamond said.
A third candidate for the at-large seat, Deborah Olson, of Becker Township, said she has followed the work of the hospital board studiously and that she could be an asset. “I feel like it’s a good opportunity to help my community,” she said. “I’d like to be involved, kind of represent the people.”
Olson said the public doesn’t understand the differences or disagreement between NRMC and the Monticello Clinic. “I think patients are caught in the middle, with a lot of confusion over the two systems operating separately,” she said. “I think the more we understand (health care), the more we can speak to what we want.”
By Paul Rignell