The AHA Class of 2019 profiles the women and men who joined the AHA board this year.

 AHA board member Dave Molmen is optimistic about the future of America’s health care. He believes the national debate over health care policy can spur greater field unity around the principles of access and coverage, payment and delivery reform and expanded opportunity for innovation and performance improvement.

And he credits the AHA “for performing a vital role in helping us shape the discussion.” 

“Even though there are strong difference of opinion about how we might move forward, my hope is that we will actually achieve greater consensus for the future,” says Molmen, who is CEO of Altru Health System in Grand Forks, N.D. “Your opportunity to form the greatest consensus is through the strongest debate and that is what we are having now.”

Altru Health System includes a 240-bed acute care hospital, a 300-provider medical group, a 40-bed rehabilitation hospital and 14 clinics that serves about 225,000 residents across a broad and largely rural area of eastern North Dakota and northwest Minnesota.  

It is a region that presents special challenges, Molmen says.   

“Our population is very spread out over a large geographic region and that makes it difficult to offer the same levels of access to everyone,” he says. “Manpower shortages are acute and we often struggle to fill vacancies in health care.” 

In an effort to address physician shortages, he notes that North Dakota and the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) have embarked on an initiative partly designed to retain more of the school’s medical graduates for practice in the state, train more practitioners and improve the efficiency of the state’s health care delivery system. The school educates more than 40% of North Dakota’s doctors.

SMHS in October opened the doors to a four-story, 325,000 square-foot-building that for the first time houses all of the university’s medical degree programs. A larger facility and revamped curriculum allows students to learn in communities, work as part of a multidisciplinary team and get more training in rurally isolated areas of the state, says Molmen, who chairs SMHS’ advisory council.

“A big part of having a health care workforce for the future in our area of the country is to work upstream in the health care pipeline,” he says.  

Altru Health System also works upstream to provide care where people live and work. It’s part of the health system’s strategy for managing population health.  Molmen says value-based payment and accountable care structures – coupled with good information – “enables you to innovate care and do things in new ways that are more effective for the patient and get a better result.”

On the topic of good information, Molmen says one of the AHA’s most important contributions is addressing the proliferation of quality metrics that can overwhelm hospitals and health systems and blur their ability to focus on issues most important to providing better patient care. He credits the association for “trying to help create a core of well understood quality measures that we can begin to use as a common language … a method for common comparison and for sharing best practices.”

Molmen has been CEO of Altru Health System since 2008 and previously served as its chief operating officer. He joined the organization in 1990 as vice president of medical affairs. He chairs the AHA’s Regional Policy Board 6, which includes Iowa, Kansas Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.  

In a changing health care world, Molmen says hospitals and health systems need to recognize that the wave of consumerism sweeping over the field demands increased value and transparency for patients. He says the hospitals and health systems must demonstrate that health care is a good investment – not just an expense – to patients who increasingly see themselves as purchasers of care. 

“If people are getting more active in their care and more active in selecting how care is delivered, then it is an opportunity for us to use that engagement not only to serve them better, but to help them better manage their own health,” he says. “It’s positive and will drive innovation as it has in other industries.”  

Molmen joined the AHA board in January. He appreciates the “opportunity to take part in shaping the health care landscape for the future. It is important work, and I’m honored to be able to do it.”