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Pioneer Editorial: Health care growth led by Hanko

One of the Bemidji community's greatest assets is the tremendous growth of its health care industry to become a major force in the region. Much of that growth has come in the past decade and to facilities operated by North Country Health Services.

For the past 11 years, Jim Hanko, as North Country Health Services CEO and president, has directed much of that growth. He retires at the end of the month, leaving behind a health care structure ready to tackle the challenges of the 21st century. Those challenges include an aging population and the increased need to provide senior health and housing alternatives, and the challenge of continuing to provide quality health care in a rural setting.

Mr. Hanko has received accolades for the past week from various groups and organizations that he's touched, including a community open house on Wednesday at North Country Regional Hospital.

Under Mr. Hanko's tutelage, North Country Health Services saw the addition of more than 100,000 square feet to the hospital, a complete remodeling of the hospital's entire interior and the construction of the region's most advanced long-term care facility, while maintaining an A bond rating. The initial $50 million project was aided by two successful capital campaigns of more than $5.5 million, and now seeing a third campaign underway with more than $600,000 to start. Current work includes adding senior assisted living and other senior housing to Neilson Place, making the hospital-nursing complex, along with MeritCare Clinic-Bemidji, a health care gem in northwest Minnesota.

Mr. Hanko also directed the addition of services which make North Country Regional Hospital a diverse quality medical center. New service lines include inpatient acute rehabilitation and geropsychiatry, endovascular surgery, polysomography, angiography and PET scanning. Those services require skilled professionals, which were recruited to the Bemidji area.

Dan Olson of MeritCare Clinic noted Wednesday that Mr. Hanko helped forge a partnership with the clinic in recruiting new docs and specialists, and that adding an emergency medical services division to North Country Regional Hospital has aided already overworked MeritCare docs.

Mr. Hanko is quick to credit his team of senior leaders, NCHS staff and community supporters for the success of the institution. But Bob Verchota, NCHS vice president of human resources and ancillary services, noted that the best team is directed by a professional, focused individual who seeks results.

Jim Hanko's leadership will be missed, but his legacy to quality health care serving the region will continue.