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Local nursing homes take in evacuees, hospital ready for emergencies

An evacuated nursing home resident disembarks at St. Mary's Oak Crossing.

For health care providers around the area, the emergency in Fargo-Moorhead started Thursday, when Ecumen decided to evacuate a large nursing home and residential living center.

"I was worried we were going to have people on the floor with mattresses," said Janet Green, executive director of Emmanuel Community and regional director of Ecumen.

But the Detroit Lakes community responded well to a call for beds, some of which were brought in by donors, including the local college, while others were picked up from residents by city street department trucks or by Emmanuel staff.

Now Emmanuel has extra beds, which may well be used by Ecumen employees and their families who were displaced by the flood.

In all, Eventide Senior Living Communities of Moorhead evacuated 350 nursing home residents, and The Evergreens of Fargo evacuated 61 assisted care suites.

Emmanuel Community in Detroit Lakes accepted 55 of them -- most from the assisted living suites, but also 10 nursing home residents and three patients from MeritCare hospital, which closed as a precautionary measure and transferred patients around the state.

Other nursing homes in Detroit Lakes, Lake Park, Pelican Rapids, Park Rapids, New York Mills, Alexandria and virtually all across the region also accepted Eventide residents, Green said.

"We had four ambulances pull up at once to unload residents from Eventide," Green said. "Becker County Transit brought the assisted living people here."

One busload got stuck in a horrific traffic jam on Main Avenue in Fargo, and was eventually dislodged thanks to a police escort. Even so, the traffic -- combined with an icy Highway 10 -- caused that particular bus trip to take six hours, Green said.

St. Mary's Oak Crossing accepted 16 Ecumen residents, said St. Mary's Innovis Health CEO Tom Thompson.

"We had six different metro ambulance services here at one time, bringing nursing home residents," he said. "I'll bet I never see that again in my lifetime."

MeritCare hospital shut down in Fargo and moved its patients to hospitals across the region, but St. Mary's Innovis in Detroit Lakes opted to leave beds available for emergency patients from Fargo-Moorhead.

"We didn't take MeritCare patients directly, and it looks like it was a good decision that we left some capacity available," Thompson said. "If they evacuate Fargo, we will be that community's health resource."

Becker County Sheriff Tim Gordon said it only makes sense that St. Mary's Innovis would be available for emergencies.

"When you get into a true emergency situation, where better than the local hospital?" he asked. "Why move them 200 miles away when you can take care of them 50 miles away?"

The Minnesota Department of Health is being kept informed of staffing levels and number of beds available "at all times, in all of our settings," Thompson said.

Green said it was important to Ecumen to make sure its vulnerable elderly residents were moved prior to any actual flooding.

"I'd much rather over-prepare than under-prepare," she said.

Now, most other nursing homes in Fargo-Moorhead are also evacuating, she said Friday.

"At 5:30 (this morning) we would have had to evacuate the Moorhead Evergreens," she said. "I was able to say, 'They're all here, sleeping.'"

Emmanuel was originally planning on hosting the extra residents for about 10 days. "Now we expect it may be two weeks, or longer," Green said. "We are ordering (extra) food and supplies."

Green said she was proud of the community response and especially proud of the employees at Emmanuel Community.

"We've got the best people here," she said. "Nobody can do this better than we can."