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Dr. Casey Ryan, who is stepping down as president of Altru Health System, says he's optimistic about the organization's future. John Stennes/Forum News Service

Outgoing president optimistic about Altru's future

GRAND FORKS, N.D. - The outgoing president of Grand Forks' Altru Health System is optimistic about the organization's future, despite challenges brought on by health care reform and other factors.

Dr. Casey Ryan, who announced last month he would step down as the organization's president at the end of the year, participated with other Altru executives in a wide-ranging discussion with the Grand Forks Herald's editorial board last week.

Ryan has been Altru's president since the organization formed 17 years ago. He said he will continue working there as a practicing physician.

"I think it's a good time for me to move back into clinical, not that I ever left," said Ryan, who will continue practicing internal medicine and endocrinology. "I think it's pretty exciting. I think Altru has a great future."

Ryan's successor hasn't been named, but that person will be a current physician, according to Altru spokeswoman Lindsey Reznicek.

"The goal is to have his successor selected by fall in order to allow time for the transition process to take place," she wrote in an email.

Ryan said Altru should remain independent, despite a trend toward hospital consolidation across the industry and the expansion of some of its competitors, namely Sanford Health.

"Local control is huge," Ryan said. "Our goal is to be the best, and not to be the biggest. Because we know we can't be the biggest."

But being the best may be harder these days, considering the significant changes taking place in health care brought on by the Affordable Care Act.

Altru officials said last October that it was being more careful about filling open positions and would look into combining responsibilities in light of lower Medicare reimbursements. At the same time, Altru leadership took a 15 to 20 percent pay cut through the end of the year.

"Our performance is better because we made adjustments," said Dennis Reisnour, Altru's chief planning executive. "As we look at the future, we think that all payment rates will be lower than what they are today."

Ryan noted some significant changes that have taken place at the hospital since he became president, including the "cultural change" that happened when Altru partnered with Mayo Clinic in 2011. The partnership provides access to Mayo expertise and specialists.

Ryan also saw the opening earlier this year of the Altru Specialty Center on South Washington Street, which includes 45 private rooms for surgeries, a Joint Replacement Center and inpatient rehabilitation. It's the first time a hospital has opened in Grand Forks since 1976.

"I think everything has performed as well (as we thought) or better so far," Reisnour said.

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