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North Shore Health Care Foundation works to achieve its vision

Mar 16, 2022 05:44AM ● By Editor
NSHCF Executive Director Valerie Marasco Eliasen opens the February 2021 Heart-Felt Thanks to Local Health Heroes event to present all essential health workers in Cook County with self-care gifts and tokens of appreciation for their diligent work protecting the community throughout the pandemic. Every employee of health care facilities in Cook County and Grand Portage were recognized and received a gift along with messages of support and thanks.  Photos: NSHCF 

By Rae Poynter • Exclusive to Boreal Community Media • March 11, 2022

Since 1993, the North Shore Health Care Foundation (NSHCF) has been working to improve care for all people of Cook County. Started by a small group of people on who wanted to provide additional support to existing healthcare resources, the North Shore Health Care Foundation (NSHCF) grew out of the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic’s development committee, and today has given over $1 million in grants and has helped community members access a myriad of resources including education, dental care, services for seniors, and restorative justice. 

Valerie Marasco Eliasen is the Executive Director of NSHCF. Photo: NSHCF

Closing Care Gaps

Valerie Marasco Eliasen is the Executive Director of NSHCF. Previously the Public Information Director and Emergency Management Administrator for Cook County, she had worked with NSHCF as a grantee. When the Director opportunity at NSHCF opened up, she was excited to pursue the opportunity because of the challenges and opportunities it offered.

“One of the unique things about our small, mighty organization is that we create incubation programs for services where they don’t exist in Cook County,” Marasco Eliasen said. 

As such a remote and rural part of Minnesota, Cook County residents experience gaps in care: healthcare needs that can’t be addressed locally and necessitate traveling to Duluth or farther to receive certain kinds of care. NSHCF seeks to reduce those gaps to whatever extent possible. One of the ways they do this is through creating incubation programs for services that the county lacks. Some of the incubation programs that community members may have heard of are Care Partners and the Oral Health Task Force. Care Partners was started in order to address the lack of palliative care and services for seniors in the county, and today provides a range of services such as rides to medical appointments for seniors, caregiver support, and end-of-life care. The Oral Health Task Force helps people age 0-26 and those who are pregnant to receive dental care regardless of ability to pay. 

The NSHCF’s incubator program the Oral Health Task Force was officially transitioned to the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic to ensure its long-term sustainability. OHTF Chair Paul Nelson looks on as SMC CEO Kate Surbaugh accepts the transfer of program funds from NSHCF Executive Director Valerie Marasco Eliasen after the signing of the MOU to officially transfer the program in August of 2020.  Photo: NSHCF

“Both of these programs started as ideas from the Foundation, and we grew them until they were ready to go out on their own as independent nonprofits, and we launched them out,” Marasco Eliasen said. 

Care Partners is now its own independent nonprofit, while Oral Health Task Force is now a program with Sawtooth Mountain Clinic.

 Past NSHCF Board President Jerry Lilja. Photo: NSHCF

Planning for a Healthy Future

Jerry Lilja, who has served on NSHCF’s board of directors for 9 years–including as a past president of the board–said that the last several years have involved developing a strategic plan to identify key areas of focus for the Foundation. 

“We brought in consultants to develop a strategic plan to really refocus and re envision who we are,” Lilja said. “The planning process took a couple of years before we launched, and now we’re going on four years into that new plan.”

Part of the new plan involved expanding and hiring their first full-time executive director–the role that Valerie Marasco Eliasen is now in–as well as defining key strategies, core values, and focus areas. A part of NSHCF’s planning process involves considering the assessment of health needs conducted by Public Health and Human Services, an assessment conducted every five years to determine the biggest gaps and highest needs in Cook County. Currently the three biggest healthcare needs are those related to travel and lodging, children’s mental health and substance misuse, and elderly services. These focus areas inform NSHCF’s giving, and grants from the Foundation have ties to those three key areas. 

Rent from the NSHCF office at the YMCA help contribute to Children’s programs. Children and leaders of the Youth Adventure Camp and the Story Buddies program held a parade to visit residents in the Care Center during the pandemic. Each child designed a sign with positive messages for the seniors telling them how much they are cared for, and this artwork was also used in the Minnesota Children’s Press book Ice Cream & Fish which helped support the NSHCF.  Photo: NSHCF

“It’s been an exciting journey to continue to grow and broaden our understanding of what is health in the county. What makes us a healthy place? What is healthy living, and how can we contribute by supporting innovative and preventative measures?” Lilja said. 

NSHCF Board President Inger Andress. Photo: NSHCF


Board President Inger Andress said that part of the strategic planning process involved interviewing several groups of people within the community to get a deeper understanding of the healthcare gaps in the county and ways to better address them. From there they developed their key strategies with a focus on resource development, resource distribution, organizational sustainability, community engagement, and advocacy. 

“The thing about the North Shore Health Care Foundation is that it’s very collaborative,” Valerie Marasco Eliasen said. “We pull in partners and work collaboratively with other agencies to bring these solutions to life. Collaboration has been key in the success of pragrams like Care Partners or the Oral Health Task Force.”

North Shore Health Hospital CEO Kimber Wraalstad receives package of gifts and messages of thanks for all Hospital and Care Center employees for the Foundation’s Heart-Felt Thanks to Local Health Heroes initiative to advocate for and recognize all essential health care workers for their role in protecting the community throughout the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  Photo: NSHCF

One of the collaborative programs that they recently launched is the Foundation Home Real Estate Program. Through this program, local real estate agents can list properties as part of the program, and a percentage of the commission from the sale goes to NSHCF. 

“We are lucky to have real estate leaders who are usually competitors come together and to help support the Foundation through this program,” Marasco Eliasen said. “It’s an investment in health and an investment in our community.”

NSHCF is in the final year of implementing their strategic plan. Jerry Lilja noted that the Covid-19 pandemic, which started right in the middle of implementing the strategic plan, brought both new challenges and opportunities. While a global pandemic is certainly not something that anybody can plan for, Lilja said that one of the Foundation’s core values is to be nimble, and they were able to step up to help the community through such a disruptive time. NSHCF established the Covid-19 Medical Response Fund, which would match up to $20,000 of what the community contributed. They grew the fund to over $44,000 and were able to help Cook County Public Health and local healthcare providers through the crisis, including assisting with vaccination events.

"Golf for Good" is one of the major North Shore Health Care Foundation's fund raising events and is held each year at Superior National in Lutsen. Photos: NSHCF


“We’ve been like a conduit to pass that money on to Public Health and to healthcare providers as they need,” Lilja said. “We’re not going to fail to be alert to things that are happening in the community. Sometimes needs emerge beyond the three focus areas that we need to be responding to.”

Restorative Justice

One of the main focuses of NSHCF recently has been the Cook County MN Restorative Justice Program. Inger Andress, who is also the chair of the Restorative Justice Program, said that the idea for the program began independently of the foundation. County Attorney Molly Hicken and former Probation Officer Steve Borud were both instrumental in starting up the program. 

“Steve Borud really felt that this was going to be a key answer to helping a lot of things that go on behind the scenes, especially with our youth,” Andress said. “And it fit with one of our key issues of children’s mental health and substance misuse because 80% of our cases are youth.”

The Restorative Justice Program is beginning as an incubation program (similar to how Care Partners and the Oral Health Task Force began.) Referrals to the Restorative Justice Program come from probation, law enforcement, court, and ISD 166. Andress said that the program gives diversions, so those that complete the program can have charges cleared from their record, and it also provides for more reparation and healing in a small community. An integral aspect of the Restorative Justice Program is facilitating face-to-face reconciliation meetings between people who harmed and those who were harmed. 

“Sometimes a victim doesn’t want to meet, so we’ll have one of our volunteers step in as a surrogate,” Andress said. “I didn’t know how effective that would be, but it’s been very effective in various situations we’ve had where the person who harmed still has to meet with someone eye-to-eye, face-to-face. Usually the surrogate had some sort of connection in their past with a similar situation that helps them be able to speak to the situation with a sincere understanding.” 

The focus on reparation and reconciliation–which involves teaching accountability, healthy communication, and conflict resolution skills–helps promote the healing that is necessary for a healthy community. 

“Restorative justice helps break the cycle,” Marasco Eliasen said. “A lot of things are cyclical, and restorative justice helps change the course positively for many youth.”

Michael, one of five new Medical Assistants-in-training takes vitals and updates health record for patient. Funded by the North Shore Health Care Foundation through a $10,000 start-up grant, the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic launched the Medical Assistant Training & Certification Program in January 2022, to address a critical workforce shortage locally. This certification training program is the first of its kind for Minnesota Community Health Centers and will result in five new Medical Assistants in Cook County the first year. The curriculum was developed by the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic in partnership with the Minnesota Association of Community Health Centers.  Photo: NSHCF


There are so many aspects involved in creating a healthy community: it’s physical health, relational health, economic health, and so much more. Valerie Marasco Eliasen said that getting involved with NSHCF through donating and volunteering is a great way to help the community. 

“There are so many great causes and initiatives, and with the Foundation you’re able to support so many of them like the hospital, the clinic, Grand Portage Health Services, Care Partners, EMS–all of the programs that we support. It has a massive ripple effect,” she said. 


For more information about the North Shore Health Care Foundation, follow this link to their website.  https://northshorehealthcarefoundation.org

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