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5 things to know today: Deleted emails, Merger scrutiny, Charity care, Closing shop, 'Annie's Song'

A select rundown of stories found on InForum.

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1. Deleted emails of former North Dakota attorney general are not recoverable, consultant finds

A tech consultant's attempt to recover a deleted email account belonging to former North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem has come up empty.

Recently elected Attorney General Drew Wrigley told Forum News Service on Tuesday, Nov. 22, a report compiled by private firm Planet Technologies concluded that Stenehjem's deleted account cannot be recovered.

Three days after Stenehjem’s death in January, state information technology officials deleted the late officeholder's state email account at the direction of Liz Brocker, a longtime assistant to the Republican attorney general. Brocker also instructed state IT officials to eliminate former Deputy Attorney General Troy Seibel’s email account after he resigned in May.

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Brocker stepped down from her post in July after Wrigley discovered while fulfilling a public records request that she had orchestrated the deletion of the accounts.

Wrigley, who was appointed in February, denounced Brocker’s actions and said he wanted to exhaust all options for retrieving the emails, which could shine light on a $1.7 million cost overrun racked up by the office under Stenehjem.

The four-page Planet Technologies report says data from a Microsoft email account is "purged" 30 days after it is deleted.

"Planet is confident in saying with 100% confidence that there is no data to be recovered for any mailbox within the Microsoft Office 365 system," the report says.

The North Dakota Information Technology Department (ITD) hired private consulting firm Planet Technologies in late September to help with email salvage efforts. A Forum News Service investigation found that the public agency assured state leaders for months the emails were unrecoverable but did not bring in any outside firms to help recoup Stenehjem’s emails despite mounting public pressure.

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Read more from Forum News Service's Jeremy Turley

2. Minnesota attorney general to hold public hearings on Sanford-Fairview merger

Sanford Medical Center is seen Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017, in Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Nicole Donaghy, left, with Native Vote organizers Lydale Yazzie and Elliot Bannister at a get-out-the-vote event in 2018. Photo courtesy of Nicole Donaghy
Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison is seeking public input on a proposed merger between Sanford Health and Fairview Health Services as his office investigates whether the deal would comply with state charity and nonprofit laws.

The attorney general’s office on Tuesday, Nov. 22, announced plans to hold three or four public hearings on the issue to learn more about the mergers’ potential impact on Minnesota residents. One of the hearings will be at the state Capitol, Ellison said, though the others will be in Greater Minnesota cities, possibly including Bemidji.

“The main idea is this merger is going to impact our state and we need to have a full-throated and inclusive conversation about it,” Ellison said at a Tuesday news conference, later telling reporters: “Before we come about a conclusion about whether this is in the public interest, we want to know a lot more.”

Ellison said his office is also taking phone calls and accepting online input through a form on the attorney general’s website, ag.state.mn.us/sanford-fairview/form.asp .

Sanford and Fairview last week announced they had signed a nonbinding letter of intent to explore a merger and complete a deal by the end of 2023. The new company would operate under the Sanford name and Sanford's CEO. Sanford’s operating revenue is about $7.1 billion, and Fairview's is about $6.4 billion. According to year-end estimates from the health systems in 2021, they would bring in more than $13 billion and would become a top-10 nonprofit health system nationally if the merger went through.

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Sioux Falls, S.D.-based Sanford has a largely rural footprint and has about 45,000 employees at 47 medical centers across the Dakotas and Minnesota. Minneapolis-based Fairview has around 31,000 employees and 11 hospitals centered in the Twin Cities area.

Read more from Forum News Service's Alex Derosier

3. They could have qualified for charity care. But Mayo Clinic sued them

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The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Bloomberg photo by Ariana Lindquist

One night in November 2021, Sierra Dale heard a knock on the door of her Rochester home. Her three young daughters were spooked to see two strangers waiting outside. She answered the door and was served with papers.

Dale was being sued by her own employer — Mayo Clinic — for unpaid medical bills.

The lawsuit was to recover a payment that Dale, a desk operations specialist in the Oncology Department, owed due to a stay at Mayo back in 2019. She had given birth at the hospital, and although she was covered by Mayo’s employee insurance plan, she still owed $11,875.

Unable to get on an affordable payment plan, Dale’s account was sent to collections. Two years later, she was sued by Mayo Clinic’s Edina-based legal firm, D.S. Erickson & Associates. In July of this year, Mayo received a default judgment against her, which means that her wages will be garnished, Dale says — possibly by up to 25% — for $12,180, including the bill and court fees.

But Dale says she never should have been charged in the first place. Based on Mayo Clinic’s financial assistance policy, she believes she was entitled to free care.

Every nonprofit hospital, including Mayo Clinic, is required by the Affordable Care Act to provide free or discounted care, also known as “charity care” or “financial assistance,” to eligible patients. The federal requirement is intended to obtain public benefit in exchange for the nonprofit’s tax-exempt status.

“It’s like a contract — the taxpayers give nonprofit hospitals tax breaks with the understanding that hospitals will help the community by subsidizing low-income patients who need help,” said Ge Bai, a Johns Hopkins University accounting and public health professor, who has conducted research about charity care.

Read more from Forum News Service's Molly Castle Work

4. Taco Shop on Fargo's North University Drive is closing its doors for good

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The Taco Shop at 420 N. University Drive in Fargo is seen Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022. Signs on the restaurant say that it will close Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022.
Helmut Schmidt / The Forum

Another of Fargo’s Taco Shops is closing, but another may be on the way.

The restaurant at 420 N. University Drive will close Wednesday, Nov. 23, according to signs on the shop’s doors and at the drive-through.

The shop at 1825 S. University Drive will remain open, and the signs urge customers to “keep a look out for a new location in 2023.”

The North University Drive “Home of the Grinder” stands just north of a Dairy Queen restaurant and across University from Chub’s Pub and Package Place

The Taco Shops are owned by Troy Thomson, who bought the restaurants in May 2019 from Shirley Johnson, the widow of Paul Johnson. Paul Johnson had owned the restaurants for 29 years.

Thomson said he was unable to comment on the status of the north Fargo property, or plans for a new location, at this time.

"There is nothing that can be disclosed at this point," he said Tuesday, Nov. 22.

The first Taco Shop opened in 1961 on 13th Street North in Fargo with a five-item menu, sticking to basics such as tacos, tostadas and grinders.

Thomson’s resume includes being a multi-shop franchisee for 11 years with Extreme Pita and a partner in the Moorhead Crave Burger outlet. In addition, he co-owned the 9 Iron Bar & Grill at Fargo’s Osgood Golf Course from 2011 to 2014.

Read more from The Forum's Helmut Schmidt

5. To heck with the Rocky Mountains, it was Minnesota that inspired John Denver's first No. 1 song

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John Denver is associated with the Rocky Mountains, but he married a Minnesota woman who was the muse for many of his songs, while the state's cold spring inspired his first number one hit.
RCA Records/1974

Denver’s “Annie’s Song” was a monster hit for the folk singer turned pop/country 1970s superstar. Fans probably know that the song was written for Denver’s wife Annie Martell Denver. But fans in the upper Midwest might be interested to know, Martell was a Minnesota girl.

Martell grew up the oldest of four children in St. Peter, Minnesota. A 1964 graduate of St. Peter High School, she enrolled in her hometown college, Gustavus Adolphus, to study art education. It was there that her life would change dramatically.

During her sophomore year, a trio of young men came to campus to perform. One of its members, a clean-cut bespectacled blond named John Deutschendorf, took notice of the pretty brunette.

Read more from The Forum's Tracy Briggs

Our newsroom occasionally reports stories under a byline of "staff." Often, the "staff" byline is used when rewriting basic news briefs that originate from official sources, such as a city press release about a road closure, and which require little or no reporting. At times, this byline is used when a news story includes numerous authors or when the story is formed by aggregating previously reported news from various sources. If outside sources are used, it is noted within the story.
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