From Minnesota to the World - Once a Tiny Hospital Caring for Norwegian Immigrants, Fairview Hospital Today Serves the World through Its Sponsorship of Medical Missions

By alexis, susan j. | The World and I, November 2002 | Go to article overview

From Minnesota to the World - Once a Tiny Hospital Caring for Norwegian Immigrants, Fairview Hospital Today Serves the World through Its Sponsorship of Medical Missions


alexis, susan j., The World and I


It started a century ago with a small ethnic hospital intended for Twin Cities' Norwegians. Today, from Nicaragua to Nepal, Mexico to Mongolia, Kosovo to Kenya, thousands of people have found their lives improved by volunteers from Minnesota's Fairview Health System.

At a time when 70 percent of Minnesotans were either immigrants or first-generation Americans, Minneapolis Norwegians--like other ethnic groups--published newspapers, ran businesses, attended church, and joined artistic societies all in their own language. Lutheran Deaconess Hospital, founded in 1889 and run by deaconesses from Norway, catered to the needs of monolingual Norwegian Americans, but it proved insufficient for the demand. In 1905, a group of leading Norwegian citizens with the shared goal of founding a second ethnic hospital formed the Norwegian Hospital Association. Although the name was changed to the United Church Hospital Association, reflecting the fact that the preponderance of members belonged to the United Norwegian Lutheran Church, the board clarified that church membership did not confer preferential treatment, thus setting a precedent for the wide focus and outreach of later generations.

After years of fund-raising, construction began in 1914. Speeches in Norwegian and English dedicated the hospital, named Fairview, a year later. Serving the same constituency as Lutheran Deaconess, Fairview conferred its name on the new system when the two hospitals merged in 1973. In the decades following, it expanded to the suburbs, burgeoning into seven care systems. Each includes a hospital, primary care and specialty clinics, children's, senior and rehabilitation services, pharmacies, home care, and hospices. Fairview's recent partnership with the University of Minnesota has further enhanced its potential for medical research. Throughout this period of expansion, Fairview employees have taken with them the institution's core values: compassion, dignity, integrity, and service.

Consistent with its Lutheran heritage, Fairview has a long history of missions. Mary Baich, previous director of the Fairview Foundation and a former Californian, notes the higher rate of church attendance and interest in overseas missions found in Minnesota. The long winters and dark times further encourage northerners to do something different in a milder climate. But more than that, people feel an inner desire to give back, believes Joseph Gryskiewicz, a plastic surgeon who has been going on medical missions for nearly twenty years.

The Fairview Foundation offers grants to cover travel or supplies for such missions, those eligible to apply including the system's seventeen thousand employees, physician associates sending patients to Fairview hospitals, and volunteers. They must travel with and work under the sponsoring direction of a recognized organization. Further, they must express a definite purpose in going and turn in a report of their experiences and reactions upon their return.

Sponsoring organizations, which may be religious or secular, range from those treating a particular ailment (Operation Smile) to those treating the masses (Volunteers in Medical Missions). The volunteers dispense vitamins, perform operations, comfort orphans, teach foreign doctors new techniques, build medical clinics, and repair outdated medical equipment.

People like family practitioner Douglas Sill volunteer because they feel they owe something to the world. "I dreamed of repaying what I considered a debt for the medical skills I had been privileged to learn," he reflects on his five-month tenure with Helping Hands in Nepal, where he treated rural patients and taught basic hygienic practices. They also go because the people they help, while poor and often ignorant by our standards, prove incomparably grateful. "People in our country are spoiled," notes nurse and clinical analyst Murt Sherek after traveling to India with Volunteers in Medical Missions.

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From Minnesota to the World - Once a Tiny Hospital Caring for Norwegian Immigrants, Fairview Hospital Today Serves the World through Its Sponsorship of Medical Missions
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