Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Fairview Health System at 100

The system was funded by Norwegian Lutherans and has become a multi-campus giant.

Exactly one-hundred years ago a group of Norwegian-American Lutherans broke ground for a hospital in the Cedar-Riverside area of Minne-apolis, planting the seeds of what is today a sprawling medical conglomerate known as Fairview Health Services.

Originally called the Norwegian Hospital Asso-ciation, the founders changed their name to the United Church Hospital Association and narrowed their focus from a general hospital to one providing care for victims of the scourge of tuberculosis.

The switch in focus resulted from the fact that the major donor who made construction possible, mill-ing executive George Christian, conditioned his $50,000 gift on such a change. (He wanted to honor his son, who had died of TB.)
The new care facility, which opened in 1908 with beds for 48 patients, was named Thomas Hospital. The United Church Hospital Association and the Fair-view Ladies Auxiliary continued their fund-raising efforts. By 1916 a center section and west wing added to the Thomas Hospital opened as a general hospital called Fairview.

Fairview subsequently took over management of the Thomas facility with a medical staff headed by Dr. Henry Williams, who also served as football coach at the University of Minnesota and is the namesake for the university’s historic basketball arena. Thomas Hospital closed in 1929.
During the second half of the 20th Century, Fairview greatly expanded its facilities in the Cedar-Riverside area on the west side of the Mississippi River. Taking a major leap forward in 1997, it assumed operation of the University of Minnesota Hospital across the river to the east.

Today the Cedar-Riverside hospital and the University Hospital are an integrated campus under Fairview administration, with the river running through it. Within this merged facility, called the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview, university physicians treat patients, train future doctors and do clinical research.

While the merger with the Univer-sity Hospital was perhaps the most dramatic of the changes, there have been many other additions to the Fairview system in recent years. It now operates six community hospitals across the metro area and state and more than 80 primary-care and specialty clinics, as well as home-care and hospice facilities. It has also absorbed Ebenezer as a division to provide services to seniors.

More growth is on the horizon. Fairview and North Memorial Medical Center have been chosen to build a new community hospital in Maple Grove; and Fairview, Children’s Hos-pitals and Allina Hospitals have announced plans to construct a new children’s hospital, most likely in the Cedar-Riverside area.

Given all these changes that have been piled on top of Fairview’s Lutheran roots, one might well ask how “Lutheran” Fairview is today, if at all.

“Fairview is Lutheran in many ways,” responded Kent Eklund, president of the Fairview Foundation.

First of all, he said, Lutherans have a direct voice in the governance of the system. The 65 ELCA congregations, mostly from the western part of the metro area, that make up the Fairview Association elect representatives to the boards of five entities in the Fairview system. Some of these boards then elect members of the Fairview corporate board of directors, and a bishop of the Minneapolis or St. Paul Area Synod or a pastor of a Fairview Association congregation must have a seat on the 18-member Fairview board.

The Rev. Christopher Nelson, senior pastor of Bethlehem Lutheran Church (ELCA) in south Minneapo-lis, currently sits on both Fairview’s corporate board and the board of the Ebenezer division.

Second, Eklund said, the motivation to heal sick persons arises from Fairview’s faith base. Fairview lists dignity, integrity, service and compassion as the values that guide its operations.

“You can get those values from multiple faith traditions, but they’re also good Lutheran traditions,” Ek-lund said.
Eklund and the Rev. Bruce Pederson, who leads Fairview’s office of church relations, pointed out that Fairview has a strong commitment to the spiritual dimension in the healing process. It has one of the strongest clinical pastoral education (CPE) programs in this part of the United States, with five certified CPE supervisors on staff, they said, adding that the program is very closely connected to Luther Seminary.

“And it’s much bigger than just providing chaplains,” Pederson said.

Under the guidance of CEO David Page, Fairview has worked during the past eight years to strengthen its ties with the Lutheran congregations in the Fairview Association, he explained. A covenant has been developed that states specifically that faith and health are interrelated. It declares that Fairview and its supporting congregations “renew our covenant to work together as partners to improve the health of the community.”

Fairview also serves as home base for a program that offers counseling for pastors who are experiencing crises in their professional and sometimes their personal lives. This Ministerial Health program originated more than two decades ago at Metropolitan Medical Center and moved to Fairview when MMC closed 18 years ago.

A three-person staff headed by John Martinson, an ordained Lutheran pastor and clinical psychologist, accepts clients referred by 15 ELCA synods and 10 districts of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Between 32 and 35 pastors go through intensive two-day assessments each year, Martinson said.
“We’re just touching the surface,” he declared. “The number of pastors out there who are struggling is huge.”

The Ministerial Health program also trains clergypersons to serve as coaches for other pastors, particularly ones starting a new call that involves a major change in setting or position. Another service offered is educational programs for church leaders or congregation members in areas like clinical depression.

It’s not just that the Ministerial Health program is housed at Fairview, said Pederson. “Fairview has committed resources to it because it is important to the church. It is a corporate response to the faith community.”

Finally, Eklund and Pederson said, Fairview is one of six large Lutheran institutions in the Twin Cities that have joined to attack social problems in the metro area. The others are Augsburg College, Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, Luther Seminary, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans and Central Lutheran Church.

Fairview and Augsburg currently collaborate on a charter high school in St. Paul that prepares young people for careers in the health field. And Fairview and LSS work together on a program to acquaint Somali immigrants and high-risk people in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis with available health care resources.