Legislators will be hosting another series of town halls

    District 1B State Rep. Deb Kiel (R-Crookston) and District 1 Senator Mark Johnson (R-East Grand Forks) stopped by the Times office Monday during a brief power outage to talk about a plethora of topics such as telemedicine, broadband, the bonding bill, and their upcoming Town Hall tour throughout northwestern Minnesota.

    Telemedicine, or telehealth, the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients by means of telecommunications technology, is expanding in northwest Minnesota and Rep. Kiel and Senator Johnson feel its important that healthcare providers are able to track patient’s vital signs and other health data even if it’s from a distance.

    Currently, some counties in the state are working with new citizens on treatments for tuberculosis via telemedicine and Rep. Kiel says they do everything online and can “visually see” patients taking the medicine.

    “They want to make sure people are healthy,” she explained.

    Northwestern Mental Health Center in Crookston has telehealth offices in their building and they work with out-of-town psychiatrists who have relationships with their patients, plus they’re hoping to expand the program for outpatient treatment.

    “Our primary approach with telemedicine has been in our psychiatry department,” NWMHC's Joan Tronson told the Times Thursday. “The psychiatrists that work with us live in other states, so we have offices set up here.”

    “The doctor ‘beams’ in and our nurses are here with our clients,” she added. “We also have some psychiatric nurse practitioners that do it (telehealth) as well. This allowed us to keep one of our nurse practitioners that moved to Washington State who had great relationships with our clients.”

    “She loves working with us and her clients love her; it allows us to keep good staff,” Tronson continued. “We are hoping to expand telehealth to do outpatient counseling though we do a little now. Some health insurance programs have doctor-on-demand which can be done over a smartphone or tablet.”

    Tronson says the NWMHC has been doing telehealth for over 10 years.     

    On broadband, Rep. Kiel and Sen. Johnson say their district is in decent shape but they need to fill gaps across the state.

    “Bigger companies like AT&T don’t want to expand, but we are very fortunate for some of the smaller companies that are willing to expand,” said Kiel.

    According to the Minnesota Broadband Coalition, Governor Mark Dayton vetoed the Omnibus Supplemental Budget bill on May 23 which included the $15 million in funding for the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program.

    The Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program looked to provide broadband internet speeds of 25 Mbps/3Mbps to the 252,000 households that currently lack such service, and look at providing statutory broadband speeds of 100 Mbps/20Mbps by the year 2026 for all Minnesotans.

    “No funding will be available for this program until legislators pass a new biennial budget at the end of the 2019 session,” said the Coalition in their 2018 Session Report review.


    Last week, Gov. Dayton signed a capital investment bill featuring $825 million in general obligation bonding to fund construction projects throughout the state. The bill includes $3 million for North Country Food Bank in Crookston to be matched by a fundraising campaign that goes towards the construction of a new facility on North Broadway on Crookston’s north end. The bill also includes funding for major classroom investments at the University of Minnesota Crookston, flood mitigation in Thief River Falls, and a clean water project in Climax.

    “The flood mitigation in Thief River Falls will help push some water when DigiKey looks to expand, protecting the small communities along the valley,” explained Sen. Johnson.

    In regards to the Climax clean water project, Rep. Kiel said she’s particularly glad they are making sure there is safe drinking water for the community.

    On the upcoming Town Hall forums, Rep. Kiel and Sen. Johnson say they’re happy to get outside the “bubble” in St. Paul to hear the thoughts and concerns of area residents. Kiel and Johnson will be in Crookston for a Town Hall meeting on Tuesday, June 19 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the City Hall council chambers at 124 North Broadway. Other stops on the tour include Fosston, Red Lake Falls, East Grand Forks, and Fertile.