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Rock Ridge could soon partner with Orthopaedic Associates

School board heard pitch from healthcare officials, superintendent at last meeting

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The Rock Ridge School District could soon be in a joint venture with Orthopaedic Associates of Duluth at the career academy, which is currently under construction.

OA representatives came before the School Board last month about possibly investing between $1 million and $1.5 million to renovate about 6,000 square feet of space on the Rock Ridge campus (part of the former Spectrum Health building) for a healthcare career academy.

Before the OA presentation, Superintendent Noel Schmidt told the board, “You’re about to hear a proposal to do something very unusual.’’ The career academy now being built “is not a normal high school,’’ he said, and the idea behind it is for the students to have direct contact with someone in particular fields of study.

Schmidt said a lot is heard about mining jobs, but “the real future jobs are in healthcare.’’ In this area, half of all the future jobs are in healthcare, he added. “That’s the big driver.’’

A joint venture between a public school system and a private orthopedic group “has never been done before as far as I know,’’ said orthopedic surgeon Robin Hendricks of Orthopaedic Associates. “I know there is strong opportunities on both sides.’’

Having a clinic space on campus allows easy access for the students to come and work with us while following at least 15 different career pathways, Hendricks told the board. Those pathways include physician, physician’s assistant, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, occupation and physical therapists, athletic trainers and MRI technologists, as well as health care coding, electronic medical records, human resources and secretarial work on the business side.

“From our side, I think the benefit is to have nice, affordable clinic space under one roof,’’ Hendricks said.

The venture would include combining Orthopaedic Associates three facilities in Virginia and Mountain Iron, he stated. That includes current locations at the Virginia hospital, Laurentian and Fairview in Mountain Iron. To put those three together would be “a huge benefit for us and our patients.’’

Financially, the joint venture would work out well, he added.

Right now, Hendricks said OA spends about $5,000 a month with the three facilities collectively. Considering the cost of the proposed build out and amortizing it over 20 years, the cost comes out to about $6,000 per month, he added. “So it makes it affordable. It’s right in the ballpark.’’

Furthermore, it's a win-win for high school athletics, said Hendricks. OA currently has athletic trainers at all Rock Ridge (Eveleth-Gilbert and Virginia) varsity games and a lot of the junior varsity games. “They’re the first point of contact with the injured student’’ and also assess the patient. The quick access to OA doctors and facilities is “unique in today’s healthcare environment.’’

The former Spectrum Health building is located between Eveleth and Virginia near the Progress Park area.

School Board Chair Stacey Scholz was very intrigued by the proposal. She said she had a hard time believing OA was standing before the board giving this proposal. The proposal is exactly what the board was thinking about when it started talking about career academies.

“The opportunities our kids are going to have if we’re able to make this work are just again beyond my wildest dreams,’’ Scholz said.

Schmidt added that the board will have to think a little bit out of the box to make the proposal a reality. “I believe if the board wants to do this, I believe we could do this.’’

Schmidt recommended the board think about the proposal and address it again in January.

The School Board meets again on Monday in the Administration Building (formerly Spectrum Health), 1405 Progress Parkway, Virginia, at 6 p.m.

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