Riverwood Healthcare Center, Aitkin

When Riverwood Healthcare Center kicked off its annual meeting March 31, Chief Executive Officer Todd Sandberg acknowledged the tough year.

“I’ve been in health care for thirty years, and this has been one of the most intense, craziest years that I could have ever imagined,” said Sandberg. “I think most of us know somebody who’s probably passed from COVID-19.”

The annual meeting marked Riverwood’s 73rd year.


Last year, Riverwood welcomed 11 new health care practitioners.

Joining the department of family medicine are physician assistant Tammy Berg, family nurse practitioner Amy Thesing and Dr. Tony Blankers.

“One day, I looked up and there’s Dr. Blankers at our vaccine clinic,” said Cindi Baker, chief operating officer at Riverwood. “He had voluntarily filled a shift to greet patients at the door. He had no medical role at all but was just there wanting to be a part of it all, and that’s just kind of mindset that he brings.”

Dr. Ann Johnson and Dr. Jennifer Tessmer-Tuck joined the department of obstetrics and gynecology, and Dr. Jeffrey Klassen, a surgeon specializing in shoulder joints, and Katelyn Sarlette, physician assistant, joined the orthopedics team.

“We’re seeing patients coming from the Twin Cities, from Duluth, Grand Rapids, just about anywhere, because they’ve heard that Dr. Klassen is with Riverwood,” said Baker said. “People get to Riverwood and they find out that there is a difference. It’s just this really great level of care, personalized care, that they’re getting.”

Additionally, Riverwood’s behavioral health team has expanded to meet growing mental health needs, including behavioral health therapy from two licensed independent clinical social workers – Kirstiane Bilyeu and Tim Markgraf.

Dr. Brandon Reynolds, urologist and surgeon, and nurse practitioner Cindy Hauser joined the urology team.


The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the financials for Riverwood in 2020.

Elective surgeries were put on hold from late March until mid-May 2020, and many in-person clinic visits were canceled, causing large operating losses.

“Riverwood received grant money in 2020 through the CARES Act and other sources, but some of these funds may need to be paid back to the federal government,” explained Casey Johnson, chief financial officer.

“We weathered the pandemic as well as or better than most,” Johnson added. “Our total margin was positive based on additional investment income but we’re still concerned about how revenue will come in during the year ahead. We’re fortunate that Riverwood was in a strong financial position before the pandemic.”


Riverwood’s emergency department received national recognition for outstanding emergency care and was awarded the Press Ganey Guardian of Excellence Award for 2020.

This award is given out to health care centers across the nation that score in the 95th percentile or above in performance on patient experience.

“We have a really good staff in the E.R. right now,” said Dr. David Taylor, Riverwood’s chief medical officer. “It helps to have a stable staff, and I think that helped us achieve this award.”

Riverwood will continue to tap into digital solutions to enhance health care delivery, including virtual video visits. “We had more than 6,000 virtual visits in 10 months,” Taylor said.


The Riverwood Foundation disbursed $93,616 to Riverwood Healthcare Center in 2020.

The largest contribution was to the Growing Together Campaign, in the amount of $52,000. Other contributions went to Emily’s Gift cancer fund, Riverwood Reads, Zachary Johnson, the surgery department, McGregor Clinic, the emergency department, Infant Warmers, and the rehabilitation department. The foundation also helped fund IT costs for implementing virtual visits, which kept Riverwood patients safe at home while still providing necessary care.

“We navigated the new normal together,” said Katie Nelson, Riverwood Foundation’s director. “Because of the outpouring of support we kept our staff’s hearts and stomachs full.”

Starting March 16, 2020, volunteers were no longer allowed into Riverwood’s health care facilities. However, this did not stop Riverwood’s 79 auxiliary members from lending a hand in other ways. They made masks, took home clerical projects, and even activated a calling tree to check in with each other. In 2020, auxiliary members gave $26,077 to help fund six different programs: cancer comfort care bags, local food shelves, Growing Together Campaign, employee support, pediatric bags, and scholarships.


Riverwood’s Governing Board had four members with expiring terms: Jeff Ehnstrom, Jared Lundgren, Alison Matalamaki, and Mike Paulbeck. During the meeting, all four were re-elected to the board for another 3-year term.

Several revisions to the organization’s bylaws and changes to the Corporate Membership application were approved by Riverwood Corporate Members.

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