It’s a case of giving back for Albert Lea’s Citizen of the Year

Published 9:00 am Sunday, March 8, 2020

Brad Arends has led local health care initiative, devoted long hours out of an effort to better the community

 

When Albert Lean Brad Arends was asked by his father to lead the grassroots Save Our Hospital organization in 2017, he never imagined he would still be involved with it three years down the road.

“Nobody thought it would be this long — maybe only a couple months,” Arends said. “But long before I got involved, the citizens were really engaged.”

Arends said as a businessman in the community, he felt a duty to be a good corporate citizen and to thank all of the people who helped his family and business over the years.

“I felt a debt of gratitude to give back to the community of Albert Lea,” he said.

Those efforts have turned into countless hours of volunteer service, starting with the Save Our Hospital group and morphing into Save Our Healthcare and now the Albert Lea Healthcare Coalition.

For this service to the community, the Albert Lea Citizen of the Year Committee selected Arends as Albert Lea’s Citizen of the Year for 2020.

Mariah Lynne, who nominated him for the award, said she has known Arends for over a decade and has seen his passion for community in a multitude of ways, usually behind the scenes. But, none has been greater than his giving of time and talent to the Save Our Hospital and Albert Lea Healthcare Coalition initiative.

“Over the past two years, he’s given a minimum average of 20 hours per week to the effort,” Lynne said. “Why? Because he believes in our community, the health of our community members, the health of our economic viability and the right of a community to rally in laser focus for the achievement of its goals.”

Despite the work he has put into leading the initiative, Arends said the effort could not have been possible without the dozens, if not hundreds, of others in the community who each played a part.

“It was the people who started this, and it was the people who kept it going,” he said. “We’re where we’re at today because of that grassroots movement that just was not going to let this happen in Albert Lea. They basically said, ‘Not in our town.’”   

The effort began in June 2017 when Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea announced it would transition most inpatient services to its Austin campus. Concerned with the announcement, many stood up against the changes.

Arends said the biggest challenge at first was uniting all these people.

He said he agreed to be the chairman of the Save Our Hospital group only if he could pick his co-chair, who he chose to be Lynne of Good Steward Consulting. The two had worked together previously at Arends’ business, which is now called intellicents.

Arends said the most tenuous times were the first couple weeks, when everyone had to come together and set rules of engagement and the group’s core values — essentially how the group would act.

They knew it was critical to bring the citizens together and get the city of Albert Lea and Freeborn County involved. He credited former Albert Lea City Manager Chad Adams for being a strong supporter in the early months.

The group’s steering committee met generally at 4 p.m. Sundays, followed by the general meeting with the entire group. Arends said this happened every Sunday for months unless it was a major holiday such as Christmas.

In addition to the steering committee, there were also subcommittees that met during the week.

On top of the meetings, he and other leaders of the group were being inundated by the news media. Various television stations, newspapers, even film crews out of Hollywood and senior advocacy organization AARP wanted to tell Albert Lea’s story.

He and other leaders met with political leaders, Minnesota’s secretary of state and lieutenant governor. He also flew out to Washington, D.C., to meet with other government entities there.

“We spent a lot of time on political avenues,” Arends said.

In a way, the organization of the group was similar to what you would find at a business, he said. Every level played a part.

The people, he said, would not give up. They attended weekly meetings, vigils, bus rides to Mayo Clinic in Rochester and weekly protests in New Denmark Park.

“It took a group of people that came from diverse backgrounds, diverse political leanings, and it brought us together,” Arends said. “We would have never met one another. We probably all had our visions in our minds — I’m sure people did of me, for example — but all the sudden, we came together and everyone worked as a team.”

He credited others who took leadership positions of subcommittee chairs.

“I think when you look back and say how did it happen, it started with all the people, and we put together a great group that stuck with it basically,” he said.

After a while under Save Our Hospital, he said it became clear that Mayo Clinic Health System did not want to negotiate on keeping services in Albert Lea, and the group morphed into Save Our Healthcare with the goal of bringing in another provider. The group hired an outside consultant, they put together a business plan and sent out a request for proposals to health systems nearby.

Arends said they ultimately interviewed two entities: MercyOne North Iowa and a consortium of care providers from the Mankato area.

The group moved forward with MercyOne, negotiated services and costs and then worked to find a building that could be purchased locally for a new clinic.

Then the group began fundraising, while others, again, stepped up to the plate to reach out to individuals and businesses.

Arends said the highlight of the journey was when he was able to announce that the group would partner with MercyOne and when the organization’s leaders signed the letter of intent to purchase the former Herberger’s building.

“That day that we announced that at the American Legion, it was magical,” he said. “It was like, ‘Wow, we’ve done this.’”

He said he thinks nothing, however, will surpass what he anticipates it will feel like when the clinic opens.

The Albert Lea Healthcare Coalition closed on the former Herberger’s building on Feb. 14, and trustees will meet weekly through the buildout with the goal of opening the first phase of the clinic Oct. 1. Various subcommittees are working on different elements of the project.

He thanked the strong senior leadership of his business, who he said carried the business through the last few years.

He also thanked his wife, Tempest, for supporting him and the time commitment the effort required him to be away.  Being empty nesters, the couple enjoys spending time outdoors and traveling up North.

“But it became so important that it was something that I just felt compelled I had to see it through,” he said.

As the journey has progressed, he said he has enjoyed seeing other business leaders stand up and become leaders not only for this effort but for the community.

“Hopefully all the businesses in town feel the need to be a good corporate citizen, in giving back,” he said.

He said he is excited about the future of the Albert Lea Health Care Coalition and the model that has been established to make it a self-sustaining entity. All money raised through the organization will go to support expanding medical services and improving health care of the citizens of Albert Lea,  he said.

With its ownership of the former Herberger’s space, the coalition has 64,000 square feet of leasable space, about 40,000 of which will be used for the clinic itself.

The remainder of the space will be leased to other complementary businesses.

“Over a period of time, that could grow to be tens of millions of dollars,” he said, noting all of which will be dedicated to the citizens of Albert Lea.

 

Citizen of the Year Award committee members

• Crystal Miller

• Sarah Stultz

• Cindy Lunning

• Rick Mummert

• John Holt

• Don Nolander

• Tom Sorenson

 

See more 2020 Progress stories here.