Wilderness Health Staff

Cassandra Beardsley, Executive Director

Cassandra Beardsley was hired in March 2013 to work with several independent Northeastern Minnesota health systems to develop a network of regional providers to ensure that relevant, quality, cost-efficient services remained available in a mostly-rural region. Her responsibilities include development of strategic business plans, budget and communication to various stakeholders including the Board of Directors, providers, staff, regulatory agencies, community leaders and general public. She is passionate about making sure that quality health care is available to everyone.

Prior to becoming executive director of Wilderness Health, she worked in various senior operational management roles with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota and FirstPlan of Minnesota.  Beardsley brings extensive expertise in Medicare, Medicaid and commercial insurance products as well as other employee benefit products.

Beardsley holds her bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Minnesota Duluth. An active member of the community, she serves on the board of directors for the Two Harbors Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA). She is also a coach and past president of the Two Harbors Soccer Club and a former board member of the Head of the Lakes United Way. In her free time, she and her family enjoy all of the seasons that Minnesota and Lake Superior offer.

Dr. Gretchen Karstens, Medical Director

Gretchen Karstens, MD, joined Wilderness Health in January 2020 as Medical Director.  In this role, she provides clinical leadership and is a champion for implementation of quality improvement initiatives; working closely with Wilderness Health staff, members and stakeholders throughout the community and region.

Dr Karstens is a graduate of the Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, WI and is board certified in Pediatrics by the American Board of Pediatrics. She is a practicing Pediatrician at St Luke’s Pediatric Associates who is passionate about addressing and improving the social determinants of health that have such a large impact on patient health. She has also been involved in patient-and-family centered care with the Health Care Home since 2007.

She serves on the MN chapter of AAP board and executive committee and in her free time, Dr Karstens likes to bake, run, and spend time outdoors with her family.


E.J Howarth, Quality Analyst

Elmer Howarth is a Quality Analyst who works with Wilderness Health and is responsible for managing quality improvement activities. Prior to his Quality Analyst role, he worked as a Community Health Director administrating operations and quality improvement activities for Rural Health Clinics and community prevention programs.

Howarth is an Inupiaq Eskimo who grew up in Northern Alaska north of the Arctic Circle where the midnight sun takes place in the summer months. He enjoys spending time with family camping, harvesting of traditional foods, and sharing stories around the campfire. His knowledge of rural health care and administration background offers Wilderness Health expertise in the understanding of working with all levels of professions. He offers services from analyzing data, identifying opportunities to improve patient outcomes to offering technical support for quality improvement initiatives.

Howarth has a bachelor’s degree in Applied Psychology and Biblical Studies where he graduated with academic achievement as Mega Cum Laude from Oak Hills Christian College. He also has a master of science in Psychology with an Emphasis in General Psychology from Grand Canyon University.

Katie Peck, RN Care Navigator

For 13 years Katie Peck has had a diverse background in healthcare. Starting in 2006, Katie received her Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certification through the Wilderness Medical Institute with the National Outdoor Leadership School. As an EMT and volunteer ski patroller through the National Ski Patrol, Katie started her healthcare career in the mountains of Breckenridge, Colorado. After working for four years within the local Emergency Department, Katie was motivated to return to nursing school to pursue a higher level education in healthcare and to learn another country’s healthcare system. Katie in 2014 received a Bachelor’s in Science of Nursing through the University of British Columbia- Vancouver. She then returned to the United State to practice as a Registered Nurse (RN) starting in Colorado and then Minnesota in Orthopedics, Neurology, Family Practice, Labor and Delivery, Home Care and now with Wilderness Health. Katie has also received her Public Health RN Certification through the Minnesota Board of Nursing and currently has her RN license in Minnesota, Wisconsin and British Columbia.

Katie has long had a passion for the outdoors and adventure. Prior to her healthcare career, Katie also received a Bachelor’s of Applied Science from the University of Minnesota- Duluth in Outdoor Education and Recreation. Katie has been an environmental educator and outdoor guide in Minnesota, California, Alaska, Colorado and Australia. Katie has maintained her volunteer status with the National Ski Patrol. She has also has served an RN for the United States Rafting Team in Brazil and a volunteer for the Boulder Food Rescue. From skiing to paddling, Katie with her family loves to purse all the outdoor adventures northern Minnesota has to offer.

Michelle Hargrave, Project Manager

As the Project Manager, Michelle serves as a resource for organizational leaders across the WH network to identify, implement and meet business development and process improvement goals.  Assists in project identification and selection, assuring linkage between projects and business objectives. Prior professional experience includes a 19-year history of various management and community engagement leadership positions in the nonprofit and higher education sectors. Past work history includes serving as the Vice President of Impact and Development at the Head of the Lakes United Way, working as the Director of the Office of Civic Engagement at the University of Minnesota Duluth, Student Life Director at UW-Stout, 4-H Program Coordinator with SDSU Cooperative Extension, and service as an AmeriCorps VISTA member.

Board service and community involvement includes: Junior League of Duluth for 10 years in various roles,  North West Community Services Agency,  MN Council of Nonprofits NE MN Advisory Council, past board member of the YMCA Community Services Branch, United Way of Wisconsin State Board, Greater Duluth Service Learning Board, and a variety of Higher Education Committees from Faculty Senate, Diversity & Inclusion, Training & Development, Public Engagement to Conduct & Risk Management.

Hargrave has acquired her MS in Human Development with a specialization in Family Financial Planning from South Dakota State University and a BA in Business Management/Entrepreneurship and minor in Spanish from Buena Vista University.  Other Involvement includes being a Chamber Ambassador and Leadership Duluth Graduate with the Greater Duluth Chamber, NAACP member, Victory Chorus participant and volunteering with area nonprofits. In her spare time-family, friends, traveling, reading, hiking animals, and crocheting are some of her joys and pastimes.

Zomi Bloom, Telehealth Program Manager

Zomi Bloom serves as Telehealth Program Manager and is leading up efforts to improve access to care, starting with behavioral healthcare, through the use of telehealth in the rural areas of the Wilderness health network.  Prior to her role with Wilderness Health, she worked in clinic management in several specialties including oncology, OB/GYN, family practice, occupational health, and urgent care-both in the Carolinas and in NE Minnesota.  She also spent seven years with St. Luke's Hospital of Duluth in financial analysis and accounting management.

Bloom has lived in several states on the east coast and now calls Duluth, MN home.  She enjoys hiking, poetry, laughing at silly animal videos with her kids, and good coffee.

Bloom holds a bachelor's degree in Health Care Administration from Mary Baldwin University and a master's degree in Business Administration, Concentration in Healthcare Management from the University of Scranton.  She has also earned certification as a Certified Medical Practice Executive through the Medical Group Management Association.

Alexis Sininger, Administrative Secretary