Life Flight in the air, and a public health crisis on the ground


Helicopters fly over the North Shore of Lake Superior. The sound of the rotor blades creates melancholy as well as pause.

Life Flight.

It’s difficult to not wake up when Life Flight is in the air. I get texts from a friend living 600 feet away in a wildlife habitat to ask for prayers.

The pulse of the rotorblades vibrates and resonates through the community’s air, and in our hearts. You have a good chance of knowing the person or their family who is being rushed to Duluth. It is hard to miss this sound as it is peaceful and quiet.

There is an additional sound that can disrupt the northern skies during the summer months. Senators, CEOs, and CFOs from across the United States arrive at the Grand Marais landing pad in private helicopters. They also rent-a-Jets for their vacation homes. Many can be airlifted out by phone or have concierge health care. It is an American reality that offers a different kind of health care.

We don’t need to refer to statistics from philanthropic foundations or nonpartisan think tanks. Two public witnesses from Cook County, Minnesota public safety and health leaders are enough to show the danger.

Kimber Wraalstad (the top administrator and CEO of Cook County North Shore Hospital and Care Center) and Cook County Sheriff Pat Eliasen both made public statements on the public record stating that the safety and public health crisis is grave. Wraalstad stated that she and the head for housekeeping at the hospital are now driving ambulances for 911 calls.

Eliasen stated that he cannot retain a deputy sheriff due to the affordability crisis and other factors. On the record, he also said that the county has seen an increase in assaults over the past year. Elisason met last week with Cook County commissioners to voice his concerns about safety and public health.

The Life Flight helicopter’s sound invokes an audio memory that is as powerful as your olfactory sense. It is the embodiment of both the best and worst aspects of America. Images of military medics entering combat zones to save soldiers’ lives or helicopters from network news networks covering mass shootings high above schools are triggered by the rotor blades cutting through Lake Superior’s sometimes treacherous weather systems. It sounds like National Guard or rescue teams flying into climate catastrophes to assist people fleeing from their homes or neighborhoods that are flooding. It sounds like law enforcement helicopters flying high above Minneapolis and Chicago, Detroit, New York, and other cities that are undergoing severe fires after May 26, 2020. Or Ski Patrol digging people out of an Avalanche.

Help is available, helicopters declare.

I find those rotor blades cutting through the air to be a stopwatch. Or, a ticking bomb. It takes seconds and minutes to make a difference for the ethical, good-intentioned, and well-informed people who do everything possible in that helicopter to save one life.

The headquarters of UnitedHealth Group is located only 276.2 miles from the North Shore. It is one of the most valuable commercial health insurance companies in the world. It’s difficult to find someone in the state who does not work for United or Optum, or who relies on someone employed by the company. Despite inflation and the current economic state, the cost of commercial health insurance premiums will rise again in 2023.

Can the UnitedHealth board and Minnesota senators listen to the tiredness of overworked and understaffed nurses, doctors and health care administrators here? These are remarkable people, who have managed, despite having limited resources and human capital, to keep COVID deaths to just four since the outbreak.

All of them were given 45 days to apply to their tiny “hero pay”, which can be up to $750 per person.

While the Maccallan Lalique flows unabated, many executives from commercial health insurance companies — many of them residing on Lake Minnetonka — are landscaping their properties along Ferndale Road. This is American reality.

Kimberly J. Soenen

Rotor blades that slice through the northern summer skies signify another person.

Triaged to the ICU at Duluth. A pregnant woman who is unable to give birth.

baby here, an Ojibwe elderly resident who was priced out of her home

and cannot afford Medicare Advantage; a male developmentally disabled adult with

Third-degree burns caused by a wood burning stove fire; someone who becomes ill.

While hiking in the Boundary waters; a tourist was hurt while camping.

Someone who fell.

Decades ago, before the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged our country, public health was seriously damaged by cuts to hospital budgets, staffing cuts, reductions in nurse-to-patient ratios, and other measures disguised as “efficiencies” or “savings” to shift profits to shareholders, and resources away From The Patient.

As an American citizen, I can only hear Life Flight now. All I hear is death by a thousand cut.

Kimberly J. Soenen resides in Chicago and Grand Marais (Minnesota). She is the curator, executive producer, and founder of SOME PEOPLE (Every)Body. Readers can learn more about Life Flight here:

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