Linda Hamilton, the former president of Minnesota Nurses Association, is a longtime resident of Fridley who lives in the shadow of Allina Health’s Unity Hospital.
Last year, her niece received a letter from Unity shortly before her baby was due, saying that she would have to deliver at Allina’s Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids, rather than at Unity right down the street.
When Hamliton spoke with the nurses at Unity, she discovered that Allina had diverted all of Unity’s birthing services to Mercy without staff or community input. Some cardiac and surgical services were being canceled as well.
It was a strangely hush-hush divestment from a non-profit, publicly-funded hospital.
Since 1966, Unity Hospital has been governed by a community board called the North Suburban Hospital District Board. Its members are elected to serve the cities of Fridley, Blaine, Hilltop, Spring Lake Park, and Mounds View, whose taxpayers have provided Unity with billions of dollars over the years.
About 10 years later, Allina Health came to operate Unity Hospital, and the North Suburban Hospital District Board – which continues to own the building – faded into obscurity.
There’s no website for the public to learn about the board’s mission, bylaws, meeting agendas, or even its current members.
In order to get answers to what the board was doing while Allina quietly diverted resources from Unity, three nurses – Hamilton, Corbin Mattila, and Bridget Lundquist – decided to run for office in December. They filed in mid-August.
The North Suburban Hospital District Board subsequently canceled its August meeting without explanation.
Before its scheduled meeting this Wednesday, a copy of the agenda appeared on the door of Unity Hospital administration. It announced that the board would be holding a vote to dissolve itself. No explanation was attached.
“It seems rather fishy when the board has been in existence for more than 50 years, that when somebody comes to contest an election, that they decide to dissolve it,” Hamilton says. “It feels like they don’t want public input.”
Ruth Nelson, the board’s only public contact, did not respond to a request for comment. Janice Shear, board member and clerk, said she was sure that board minutes are available for the public to look at, but didn’t know where anyone could get them.
Scott Lepak, general counsel for the North Suburban Hospital District Board, was the only one with any information. He confirmed that Allina had announced a “One Hospital, Two Campuses” plan for “removing the full spectrum of services and specialties currently being offered at Unity Hospital and to transfer a large portion of them to Mercy Hospital.”
“This was an Allina decision that the Hospital District did not have any effective input into because Allina Health had the option to purchase the Unity facility going back to 1978,” Lepak wrote in a September memo.
This supposedly left the board with no choice but to dissolve, as its mandate was to support a comprehensive community hospital at Unity that was now being stripped.
The board has been discussing dissolution since July, and canceled its August meeting in order to give Lepak time to develop the necessary documentation, the lawyer wrote.
He will be present at the upcoming board meeting to answer questions. The meeting is scheduled for this Wednesday, September 14, at 6:30 p.m. It will be held in the Ambulatory Care Lobby at Unity Hospital.