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Sanford Bagley Medical Center celebrates 10 years with community event

Ten years ago Sanford Health took over operations at the Bagley Medical Center after financial troubles almost closed it down.

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Attendees walk over to see a Sanford AirMed helicopter during a Sanford Bagley Medical Center 10th anniversary celebration on Tuesday, June 7, 2022, at the center.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer
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BAGLEY — Just over a decade ago Bagley’s medical center was on the brink of closing down. Now the community is celebrating 10 years since Sanford Health acquired the facility and kept it open and running.

Community members and Sanford Health employees gathered outside of the Sanford Bagley Medical Center on Tuesday, June 7, for a celebration of the small town’s health services surviving.

“We’re just celebrating having a hospital, being able to continue to serve, having this resource available,” said Stephanie McKnight, the medical center’s administrator.

The event included music, games, bouncy houses and tours of a medical helicopter and ambulance. Children and families gathered for the celebration, enjoying hotdogs, drinks and the beautiful summer day.

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Sanford employees serve hot dogs to attendees during a Sanford Bagley Medical Center 10th anniversary picnic on Tuesday, June 7, 2022, at the center.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

“Really the celebration is the people and being in the community,” said Dr. Esther Potti, a family medicine doctor at the Sanford Bagley Clinic. “It’s such a pleasure to serve the community, it’s thriving.”

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And the community also showed gratitude to the medical center and clinic staff for the work that they do.

“I think it’s a fantastic resource for us all, for a town our size to have,” said Marie Iverson, who attended the event. “The people that work here are caring, very compassionately minded. You couldn’t ask for better.”

Things didn’t always look so hopeful, however, and Potti and other clinic staff remember when the future of the Bagley’s medical center looked less optimistic.

Previously run by Clearwater County, the medical facilities in Bagley were struggling financially for years, and county officials had to make the call on whether to shut them down or let them merge with a larger health care system.

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Sanford flight paramedic Kristen Otteson, left, chats with an attendee during a Sanford Bagley Medical Center 10th anniversary celebration on Tuesday, June 7, 2022, at the center.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

“It just kept financially going down and down,” said Dan Stenseng, a former Clearwater County commissioner. “These folks here, the medical staff, were behind us. We wanted to do something, see something happen.”

The county received offers from two large health care providers, and one of them was Sanford Health.

“Sanford wanted to run our hospital for three years firm, make money, lose money,” Stenseng said. “Now 10 years later they’re still doing it.”

Sanford kept all of the county’s employees in the merger, and being a part of a larger health care system has also been beneficial to patients seeking care.

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One example is the ease of referrals to specialized health care providers elsewhere in the Sanford system.

“We’re able to refer our patients to specialized providers,” McKnight explained, “I would say Sanford improved our medical system here.”

The merger has also helped construct the Sanford Bagley Clinic on the other side of town and assisted with other improvements like a new ambulance garage.

“Those are really tangible improvements we can see,” McKnight said.

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Oliver Larson, 4, asks Sanford flight paramedic Kristen Otteson a question during a Sanford Bagley Medical Center 10th anniversary celebration on Tuesday, June 7, 2022, at the center.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

Operating under Sanford Health has also been beneficial to physicians and medical staff, who now have a larger support system to rely on.

“It’s far easier to take a chance on us because we do have the support of a larger system,” said Dr. Andre Spence, who works at the clinic. “The system plays a really positive role in patient management that influences everything downstream.”

Spence also described the importance of having hospitals in rural communities, since easily accessible medical care is critical to catch and treat some conditions early.

“The model of small hospitals is so important for the speed of treatment,” Spence said. “Early intervention is key.”

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Sanford’s Bagley facilities are still looking to improve and bring more health care access to the community. One primary focus for the future is getting more behavioral health services.

“We’re continuing to do some strong planning, especially with behavioral health,” McKnight stated. “(We) want to provide more of this service to Bagley, there’s definitely a need.”

As Sanford's medical facilities in Bagley enter their next decade, everyone involved with them is grateful they survived and continue to operate: the staff, the patients and the broader community.

“Here I am enjoying and looking forward to 10 more years of serving,” Potti said. “I’m so proud.”

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Children play on a bouncy slide during a Sanford Bagley Medical Center 10th anniversary celebration on Tuesday, June 7, 2022, at the center.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer
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Sverin Boe, 9, plays on a bouncy slide during a Sanford Bagley Medical Center 10th anniversary celebration on Tuesday, June 7, 2022, at the center.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

Related Topics: SANFORD HEALTH
Nicole Ronchetti is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on local government and community health.
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