Patrick Sharp

HIBBING — Fairview Range has more than 100 local providers, making it the largest medical staff on the Iron Range. The health care network employs about 1,000 people, which makes it one of the premiere businesses in the region.

The power of Fairview Range can be measured by its physical space. It is a nonprofit health care system that includes Fairview Range Medical Center and Fairview Mesaba Clinics with facilities in Hibbing, Nashwauk and Mountain Iron, a home care and hospice and a medical supply provider, as well as Fairview Range Greenview Residence, a memory care facility located on the medical campus.

Set along 34th Street, the clinic providers encountered 85,000 people in 2018, as the hospital saw 13,888 emergency department visits, 13,466 urgent care visits and 2,683 admissions during the same time frame.

It is on the fourth floor of the hospital, where CEO Patrick Sharp recently told the Hibbing Daily Tribune that Fairview Range has been continuing to grow their cancer services and are the only ones offering radiation therapy outside of Duluth in the region.

Essentia Health has 15 hospitals and 75 clinics in Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Idaho. The system has the largest hospital in Duluth, where it offers radian therapy. While Essentia Health has oncologists in Virginia, Fairview Range has been partnering with the University of Minnesota to grow medical oncology and radiation oncology services on the Iron Range. Sharp said Fairview Range continues to “treat people from a broad area, from Hibbing to Virginia to International Falls.”

Cancer has become an essential part of the national and statewide business of healthcare. Several states have been reporting that cancer has surpassed heart disease to become the No. 1 cause of death. In fact, the Minnesota Department of Health says that “although the cancer mortality rate has decreased by nearly 15 percent in Minnesota over the past 20 years, one out of four Minnesotans die of cancer. Cancer is the leading cause of death in the state.” In 2019, the American Cancer Society estimated there will be about 1.7 million new cancer cases and more than 600,000 cancer deaths in the U.S. That boiled down to 30,560 cases and 10,020 deaths in Minnesota.

This past August, Fairview Range began using its second linear accelerator — a TrueBeam radiotherapy system “treating cancer anywhere in the body, including lung, breast, prostate and head and neck,” according to Varian Medical Systems website. The machine offers the same level of treatment found in Duluth or the Twin Cities.

Health care employment

Hospitals are investing in cancer, as they continue to search for ways to recruit and retain oncologists, as well as an array of medical staff.

In September, Erik White, a regional analyst for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, reported that the Arrowhead region including seven counties had 325,092 people in 2018, roughly 5.8 percent of the state’s total population.

Despite its large size, the region is the least populated of the six planning regions and has lost more than 1,000 people while the state has welcomed more than 300,000 people in that same time frame. He retold that having an aging population and retiring baby boomers has attributed to the region losing more than 1,500 workers since 2005. “Increasingly tight labor markets and a growing scarcity of workers is now recognized as one of northeast Minnesota’s most significant barriers to future economic growth,” White wrote.

The report showed that health care and social assistance offered the most jobs in the region, with 34,459 jobs, or 24 percent of total employment. That was about 7 percent higher than the healthcare sector through the state. And at $49,619, the average annual wages were nearly $5,000 higher in health care than all industries. For comparison, the much touted mining industry had 4,186 jobs, or 3 percent of total employment. And though politicians and mining companies promote spinoff jobs, most of the retail and food service gigs pay people less than $20 an hour wages.

As Aaron J. Brown, an HDT columnist, pointed out earlier this year: “It’s been true for a while, but some still don’t realize that the Fairview Medical Range Medical Center in Hibbing employs more people than Hibbing Taconite. When you add all the healthcare industry jobs on the Iron Range, they outnumber jobs in mining by at least 2:1. That’s partly because mining employs fewer people, but mostly because of medical industry growth.”

In his report, White appeared to agree with Brown, saying that “the largest and fastest growing industry is expected to be health care and social assistance, which may account for more than double of the total projected growth in the region by 2026.”

At Fairview Range, Sharp said that “recruiting physicians to work in rural hospitals is a hurdle.” But he remains optimistic that while some doctors might be attracted to the hospital for its state-of-the-art technology, others might be interested in settling into a rural lifestyle and enjoying an enhanced work-life balance.

“There is a very strong primary care base, which helps in recruiting specialty physicians,” Sharp said. “There is also a strong number of individuals from the Iron Range that go on to medical school and come back to work here.”

Fairview Range recently hired a urologist and continues to recruit additional providers for specialty care.

Sharp is personally familiar with achieving the enhanced work-life balance found on the Iron Range.

Nearly a decade ago, he arrived in town beside his wife, Sereen Sharp, MD, when she was recruited by Fairview Range from a residency in internal medicine from the Twin Cities. He has since climbed the administrative ladder to become CEO in 2018.

Considering the current and future workforce, he said he envisions being able to draw in talented providers to offer quality health care close to home in Hibbing and surrounding communities.

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