Friday, July 24, 2009


Today the people of Grand Forks, North Dakota, are mourning the death of Robert Jacobson, who worked as a chief hospital administrator in the city for 30 years (1963-93). Interestingly, Jacobson, who was a Lutheran from Minnesota, started his Grand Forks career as administrator of Deaconess Hospital (located downtown on 4th Street), where the hospital's Lutheran nurses still lived in a dorm near the hospital.

In 1971, Jacobson led a merger of Deaconess Hospital with St. Michael's Catholic Hospital to create "United Hospital." From that point he had the vision to grow the hospital in a way beneficial to the community, including moving it to a new site, where the name was eventually changed from "United" to "Altru."

Beyond the main thrust of this story, with my historian's hat on, I was particularly pleased by the following nugget couched in an article about Jacobson written by Stephen J. Lee of the Grand Forks Herald: "It was a fulfillment of bigger moves led by Robert Jacobson years before, from when nuns and Lutheran “deaconess” nurses provided much of the care at two religious — and sort of rival — Grand Forks hospitals for little pay to the advent of contemporary secular, if still nonprofit, medical centers."

This kind of "hospital history" is more common than most people realize!

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