Oil Company's Gift Brings Obstetrics Back to a Rural Community in the Bakken

Credit: Renée Jean/Williston Herald.
Ashlee McNamee, right, with Whiting Oil and Gas listens as Lynn Welker, public relations for McKenzie County Health Care Systems, talks about the electronic screens that are in each room of the new labor and delivery wing of the McKenzie County Health Care Center.

Obstetrics are disappearing from rural counties across America, but not in the oil patch. In the oil patch, most recently in McKenzie County, North Dakota, there is a resurgence.

A new wing that will be devoted to labor and delivery has already been completed in the McKenzie County Health Care Center, its cost underwritten by Whiting Oil and Gas with two gifts totaling $250,000.

On 6 June, healthcare and clinic officials gathered with community members to celebrate and salute the oil and gas company’s contribution to the community’s future.

Ashlee McNamee and Darius Frick, with Whiting Oil and Gas, said the choice to contribute to the labor and delivery wing was employee generated.

“With the idea of a hospital circulating through the community, our employees were excited, and one of the first questions they had was labor and delivery,” McNamee said.

More than 50% of Whiting’s employees are younger than 40, she added. “So we will be the ones putting babies in there, hopefully.”

Frick, whose wife’s grandparents homestead in the area, later told the Williston Herald that their third grandchild is on the way.

“It will show up before this is ready to go,” he said. “But, as a grandpa, this is exciting that this can happen, that we can have the little babies in our town again. For our community, and for our employees, this is what we need to continue to make Watford City a strong, growing place where people want to come find a job, and a career, and make a home—like we have done.”

McKenzie County Healthcare Systems Chief Executive Officer Dan Kelly, meanwhile, recalled a time when the health center’s board was considering a $35 million renovation of a facility that would have landlocked their future and wouldn’t have met the community’s ultimate needs.

“Maybe fortuitously, we didn’t really have the money to undertake that at the time,” Kelly said. “So the board decided, wisely I think, to hold off. And thank God we did. Because, with this building, we have everything on one campus. We have the ability to grow and provide everything that this community needs.”

Partners like Whiting have made all the difference, Kelly added.

“We wouldn’t be in the building we have if not for partners like Whiting,” he said. “I have said this many times and will continue to say it. If I have to be the administrator of a healthcare system in oil country, I want it to be in McKenzie County, because this is a county that can get things done.”

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