Posted 10/11/16 (Tue)
By Kevin Killough
Mary Aaland, a doctor with the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences lives in Fargo, but spends most of her time on the road travelling from community to community.
She was at Tioga Medical Center last week working out of her office in the new clinic, where she hopes to bring to fruition a program that will provide outpatient surgery services.
“Currently, I’m a department of one,” she said and it will take time before her vision is a reality.
Over the past couple of years, the Tioga area has seen an enormous improvement in medical services, including an extensive hospital expansion at Tioga Medical Center and the new Northland Clinic in Ray.
It’s an impressive feat that the area has been able to expand the services to the level it has, because rural healthcare is such a challenge.
Despite this expansion of services in the Tioga area, outpatient surgeries still need to be performed elsewhere, mostly in Minot.
This can be hard on patients.
On top of the inconvenience of transportation to and from the hospital where the procedure is being done, which can be especially hard on the elderly, there is the added cost and inconvenience of hotels.
Often, the patient is driving after going without food for as much as 24 hours.
And with upwards of 65 percent of all surgery now being done on an outpatient basis, the medical school formed the Rural Surgery Support Program to try to provide a solution.
The program was established in July 2014, when Robert Sticca, chair of the UND Surgery Department, recognized the need to stabilize surgical coverage in rural communities.
He recruited Aaland to lead and develop the program, and she understands the rural life.
Aaland grew up on a farm in Northwood. Her great grandmother immigrated to the town from Norway in 1860. Driven by the same ambition that would trickle down to her great-granddaughter, the entrepreneurial woman bought a second home as an investment.
Eventually it was converted into a long-term care facility and would be the longest continually running nursing home in the state.
Including a background in trauma surgery, Aaland has 25 years of experience.
Incessantly busy and with the headstrong personality that’s required to succeed in a field that was not very welcoming to women when she was getting her start, you could say Aalund has an attitude. She says it comes with the territory.
“Everyone needs a grumpy surgeon,” she said.
The way the program she envisions would work is it would bring surgeons to the community for a week at a time, with all appointments scheduled within that week.
Aaland is quite specific about the nature of the program. She said it’s not just another locum tenens -- traveling doctor -- program.
“You get the same surgeon every month. The surgeon is part of the community,” she said.
She said the program will also be tailor-made for the community according to its needs.
To accommodate this program, Ryan Mickelsen, COO of TMC, said the hospital is doing about $300,000 worth of alterations to the emergency room.
The plans are with the Department of Health awaiting approval.
He said the biggest value the program will bring is to the people in the community who will benefit from the services, but the hospital will also receive a boost in revenues.
“It’s pretty exciting for us and for the community,” Mickelsen said.