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Fundraising for regional cancer center continues, remodel set to begin in 2022
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There’s no place like home — especially when you’re not feeling well.

In part, that’s why the Cancer Care Close to Home campaign for the comprehensive remodel of the Virginia Piper Cancer Institute at District One Hospital in Faribault is on pace for a successful finish.

“We all know someone who has been touched by cancer, and despite medical advances in the field, it’s not going away,” said Rick Miller, director of operations for Allina Health’s Faribault and Owatonna hospitals.

“We have better screening programs and a prevention focus but when someone gets a cancer diagnosis, the ability to have the right hands holding theirs from the start of the journey is vital.”

Over the past year, the District One board of directors, along with hospital staff like Miller and oncology-certified nurse practitioner Amy Selly, have partnered with motivated community members to meet a $750,000 fundraising goal that will improve local delivery of cancer care services.

“The community has rallied around investing in great cancer care close to home,” said Miller, mentioning that an abundance of $25 and $50 gifts have been received, as well as about a dozen donations in the larger gift categories.

“This is a close-knit health care community, and we’re extremely appreciative of every gift,” he added.

Said Selly, “We’ve been amazed at the support and generosity of this community, which will enable us to continue providing care in a functional environment and offering patients our very best professional support.”

Miller confirms the major remodeling effort may commence in January 2022. Although the bulk of the needed funds have been pledged or received, more donations are required to ensure the project can be completed as envisioned.

“We’re getting close, but those last dollars are really the toughest,” said Todd Markman, a campaign cabinet member.

“We need to find a few more donors to put us over the top so we can finalize the project.”

Permanently temporary

The VPCI remodel is comprised of three major parts: a new room for family conferences; a larger space to accommodate cancer support group meetings, counseling, patient education and/or staff training; and dedicated patient rooms.

“Between the clinic and infusion center, we see between 25 and 50 patients a day,” said Selly. “Patients are typically from within a 30-mile radius of Faribault.

“We are the only accredited cancer center in south central Minnesota, and that accreditation is important because it allows us to provide multidisciplinary care.”

Selly, along with her VPCI colleagues, has made do for years.

“The original space was outgrown by 2015,” said Selly, noting the VPCI opened locally in 2011.

“Ten years after opening, we’ve significantly outgrown the temporary space we moved to in 2015.”

Selly, a Faribault native and one of 13 skilled health care professionals at the District One VPCI, handles direct patient care.

“Truly, caring for patients in our community is my passion,” said Selly. “We have an outstanding medical oncologist, social workers, nurse navigators and nursing staff.”

But what they haven’t had is a dedicated space.

“Currently, our clinic staff are scattered throughout the hospital’s first floor, making patient coordination more challenging,” said Selly.

“We’re located within the surgery center, and there’s a lot of commotion and activity occurring around us as we’re attempting to take care of newly diagnosed cancer patients and those receiving ongoing care.”

The remodel aims to solve that, with a goal of creating a specially designed space for providing optimal cancer care.

“This is a good thing, too, because it’s a remodel of space [on the hospital’s north side] previously used to store medical records,” said Miller, noting records are now digitalized.

“That makes the construction costs less and the timeline shorter than if we were building from scratch.”

Both Selly and Miller emphasize the project’s value to cancer patients and their families.

“We have all the tools, expertise and programs to support cancer care, and we can do it close to home,” said Miller.

“Something even as simple as parking, which is easy and far less stressful here than at larger facilities — and the benefit of having VPCI and Allina Health behind us is we can do everything here they do at Abbott Northwestern or Mayo, and if additional specialized care is required, we can coordinate that for you.

“You get the specialized medical care you need along with the extra tender care of a smaller facility.”

Personal touch

Markman was easily convinced to join the campaign cabinet.

“I was happy they asked me, and the more I learned about the project, the more it made great sense to me from the perspective of keeping cancer care local,” said Markman.

The goal of providing up-to-the-minute specialized cancer care in greater Minnesota spoke to Markman, who moved with his family to Faribault from Blue Earth as an 8-year-old because his mother was battling cancer and needed closer proximity to the Mayo Clinic for her frequent appointments and treatments.

“We had some relatives in Owatonna, and our church family helped out a lot, but I remember her taking numerous trips to Rochester for treatments and checkups when I was a child,” said Markman.

“We [he and his three older brothers] learned some valuable lessons that, no matter the outcome of the illness, community means a lot to a family.”

Markman stresses that having a hospital in town serves everyone; its presence shouldn’t be taken for granted.

“Whether it’s there for children being born, or when you fall off a bike and break an arm, or need other medical attention—to have all that, plus a full cancer center, in our own backyard is pretty important,” said Markman.

“Many other outstate communities have lost their hospitals, and having both Mayo and Allina clinics in town with access to specialists is part of what makes Faribault the great community it is.”

That’s precisely why Miller and Selly are thrilled the remodeled cancer center is on the verge of becoming a reality.

Said Miller, “Our staff are friends, neighbors and relatives of their patients. They really care on a deeply personal level.”

After 8 years, board OKs comp plan, seeks environmental review of planned commercial zone
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After more than eight years of discussion, planning and public input, Rice County has a new comprehensive plan.

The plan, which outlines a vision for growth and land use in the county over the next decade or so, was approved unanimously Tuesday. But as with much of the plan’s meandering path, it very nearly took an unexpected detour.

Commissioner Galen Malecha, who represents much of Northfield, kicked off discussion by saying that he was voting vote no to the plan because it was lacking in areas important to his constituency.

“I would have liked to have seen more teeth in its sustainability chapter … and a more aggressive housing portion,” he said.

Commissioner Steve Underdahl, who along with Malecha, sits on the county’s Sustainability Committee, agreed that the comprehensive plan needs beefing up when it comes to sustainability. He also expressed concerns about a planned commercial and industrial zone along Interstate 35 in the northern portion of the county, but instead of further delaying the approval approval process, Underdahl suggested authorizing an Alternative Urban Areawide Review that would act as almost an addendum to the comp plan.

For a moment it appeared as if the board would approve the comp plan contingent on the development of a review, but after Environmental Services Director Julie Runkel recommended commissioners take time to craft a thorough request for proposals seeking companies interested in conducting the review, the board voted to approve the plan.

Malecha said he was satisfied with the verbal agreement to develop a request for proposals.

According to the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board, the AUAR process a type of environmental review “to understand how different development scenarios will affect the environment of their community before the development occurs.

The process is designed to look at the cumulative impacts of anticipated development scenarios within a given geographic area. … Environmental analysis information from an AUAR can be used to inform local planning and zoning decisions.”

Tuesday’s vote came two weeks after the board wrapped up a required public hearing in which a number of residents criticized plans to rezone several hundred acres along the interstate for commercial and residential development. Much of the land was the site of a proposed 466-acre car club and track, withdrawn in late 2019 after the developer lost rights to several of the properties involved.

Many of the same residents also questioned that proposal, finding it would permanently alter the rural nature of the community, harm wildlife and deplete valuable resources.

“I don’t understand why you would rezone an area with no vision of what belongs there,” Kathleen Doran Norton, a former Bridgewater Township supervisor said Sept. 28.

Bagley Avenue resident Elizabeth Heigl, also at the public hearing, asked the board to consider existing residents and the nearby community when deciding how and whether to approve commercial develop in the area.

“I don’t want a factory next door to me,” she said. “I beg you, please, please, use your resources wisely. Consider the people of the county that you serve.”

Fundraiser concert to benefit, show community's support for Faribault police
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Last October, Scott Amundson looked to plan a fundraising opportunity as a way to support the Faribault Police Department in light of the nationwide discussions about defunding police.

“With everything going on, I choose to publicly state that I support and love our police,” said Amundson. “I want to keep our police happy and healthy, and get the community behind it and get them to support it.”

Having to reschedule the event due to the pandemic, the C&S Vending Co. president found this month was the perfect opportunity to put his plans in motion. Amundson has been planning a fundraiser concert with the help of two of his staff members: Darla Kosanda and Jean Herda.

The concert takes place from 7-10 p.m. Saturday at the Paradise Center for the Arts, 321 Central Ave. N, Faribault. The fundraiser kicks off with a presentation by Faribault Police Chief Andy Bohlen about the men and women who work in the department and some of their accomplishments.

A concert by Street Talk runs from 8 -10 p.m. Tickets are $20 and available at paradisecenterforthearts.org, by calling 507-333-7372 or by stopping in during PCA open hours from noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday-Friday or 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

All funds raised from this event will stay in town and go toward the local police department for safety equipment and assist department personnel with mental health concerns. Bohlen says it’s vital for officers to be able to talk with someone confidentially if needed, adding that its necessary for their long term health and success in their careers and at home.

While some of the funds raised could go toward safety equipment, Bohlen says it’s likely most money would go toward the mental health fund to make sure officers know of services offered through the city of Faribault and that partners who deal with police trauma are available.

Bohlen says he is looking forward to showcasing the department, as he’s really proud of the men and women that work in the city. He looks to highlight what they have done not only as first responders, but also in the community, along with what the department does.

“As police chief, I’m sincerely honored and humbled, and happy the community have been so supportive,” said Bohlen. “This was a grassroots effort from the community and I’m grateful this is taking place. I look forward to bragging a bit about the men and women that work here. I’m honored to work with them and honored for the community’s support.”

Amundson said the community has been supportive of the opportunity to show appreciation to the Police Department and they’ve received an overwhelmingly positive response.

“We are very encouraged to see that,” said Amundson of the community’s support. “When you read social media and see what’s happening and talk about defunding police. I wondered, ‘Is that the way everyone is feeling? So I said well we are going to go out and see.’”

Donations big and not as big will be accepted, and donors will be recognized (if they choose) on an alphabetized list.

Amundson salutes his staff, Kosanda and Herda, who’ve worked hard and even gone door to door to drop off fliers and packets of information to local merchants.

Kosanda, C&S Vending HR director, said tickets are still available and she encourages all to come out and show their support.

“It’s a great cause and it’s going to be a very fun event,” said Kosanda. “100% of the funds stay right in Faribault.”