Michael Milbrath planned for flu outbreak

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 28, 2009 - 10:44 PM

As a Waseca hospital official, he prepared for the spread of the H1N1 virus that claimed his life. He was passionate about patient care, family -- and baseball.

When the H1N1 influenza virus became widespread last spring, Michael L. Milbrath knew it was a disease to be taken seriously. As executive vice president and administrator of the Waseca Medical Center, he spent countless hours formulating and enacting plans and procedures to prepare staff members and educate the public about the dangers H1N1 could pose in the event the illness arrived the southern Minnesota community.

Now shocked and saddened staff members at the Waseca Medical Center will have to carry out those plans without Milbrath, who died over the weekend from the illness that he was trying to protect people from.

He had been diagnosed with the H1N1 flu virus and died from the illness Saturday while at Immanuel St. Joseph's Hospital in Mankato, Minn., said Kevin Burns, chief communications officer for Waseca Medical Center, which is part of the Immanuel St. Joseph's-Mayo Health System. He had no underlying health conditions, the Minnesota Department of Health said.

"This is an incredibly sad time for all of us, and words cannot begin to express our grief," said Dr. Greg Kutcher, president and CEO of Immanuel St. Joseph's. "He was a valued colleague who worked diligently on behalf of patients in and around the Waseca area. More than a wonderful colleague, Mike was a terrific person."

Milbrath's death was one of two flu-related deaths reported last week. Those deaths brought the total to 12 in the state since the illness was first detected in Minnesota last spring, according to the state Department of Health.

Milbrath, 54, had worked for various health care facilities before he arrived in Waseca in 1995. Under his leadership, the medical center became affiliated with the Immanuel St. Joseph's-Mayo Health Care System and grew from a small rural hospital to a stable medical center with a great deal of technology and talented providers. In recent months he led the medical center's emergency preparedness and community prevention efforts concerning the H1N1 influenza, Burns said.

"He was a great leader who fulfilled his duties well," Burns said. "He listened, was a good mentor, was quiet and approachable, and had a warm presence. He was passionate for what was best for patients and it showed. He led by example. Mike is remembered fondly," and now the task is "to make Mike's passion for patient care continue."

Milbrath was equally passionate about baseball. He collected baseball cards and often spent time at flea markets looking for that "next big find" to round out his set, Burns said.

"He knew the history of the game, who won batting titles, their stats and studied with pitching rotations and how to move the outfield to play the hitter," Burns said. "He was excited as anybody about the Twins' move to an outdoor ballpark. The Twins will have a new manager in heaven."

Milbrath was committed to his family, those who knew him said. He was head elder at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Waseca, and was involved in activities put on by the Waseca Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary Club.

He was born in Lakefield, Minn., and graduated from high school there in 1973. He earned his bachelor's degree in health care administration from Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, Minn., and a master's degree in the same subject from the University of Minnesota.

Milbrath is survived by his wife, Cheryl; his parents, Les and Mildred Milbrath of Red Wing, Minn.; three daughters, Kate Kupcho of Blaine, and Abby Gibson and Shelby Milbrath, both of Waseca, and a brother, Tom, of Red Wing.

Services will be held at 10:30 a.m. today at St. Paul Lutheran Church, 314 4th Av. NE., Waseca.

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