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Published May 16, 2012, 10:02 PM

Former Employee Raises Competition Questions About Altru

GRAND FORKS (WDAZ-TV) - Altru Health System's purchase of four buildings on South Washington Street, just days before Doctors Hospital was supposed to open, raised questions about competition in the local health market.

GRAND FORKS (WDAZ-TV) - Altru Health System's purchase of four buildings on South Washington Street, just days before Doctors Hospital was supposed to open, raised questions about competition in the local health market.

Some of those questions were raised by Dr. Noah Chelliah, an independent physician and former employee of Altru.

He wrote a letter to the Grand Forks Herald explaining why he thought Altru's acquisition of the buildings was an unethical move.

How people view Altru's purchase of the buildings apparently depends on a person's perspective. Chelliah claims Altru crushed the only competition in town, but on the other side Altru says it bought the buildings to accommodate patients.

"It's so large it becomes impersonal," Chelliah said.

The size of the hospital was Chelliah's primary reason for leaving Altru's employ years ago. And on February 17, the Health System announced it was going to get bigger by purchasing four buildings on S. Washington St., including the Doctors Hospital building.

Altru executives say the move was prompted by demand.

"Anybody who knows about our organization knows that patients are always at the foremost of everything that we're doing," Altru Chief Planning Executive Dennis Reisnour said.

But Dr. Chelliah saw it in another light.

"To claim to the Grand Forks public that it was not meant to crush the competition, I think they're not telling us the truth," Chelliah said.

"I just don't agree with that I don't see how he could conclude that," Reisnour said.

In his own letter to the Herald, Reisnour states, "Altru is a big organization, but we're not a faceless corporation trying to monopolize the region and take out the competition."

"If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, its a duck," Chelliah said.

"I suppose you have to anticipate that not every body's going to be a fan of what we do," Reisnour said.

Chelliah feels Altru is not giving the people of Grand Forks a choice, but Reisnour says the community has had a choice, for the past 120 years, whether it be in town or out.

"We think there are real advantages to having local ownership and control of health care systems and that's what we're trying to achieve," Reisnour said.

Chelliah believes Altru would have been more successful if Doctors Hospital had opened.

"Quality of care would've improved dramatically, I have no doubt about that," Chelliah said.

Regardless of opinion, Altru executives say not only is Dr. Chelliah wrong, but his words are upsetting to an organization that's been in town for over a century.

"It's hurtful to all of us when we're attacked," Reisnour said.

The hospital plans to open a sleep center on S. Washington St. in just a few days on May 20.

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