ALMC may close clinic in Alden

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 10, 2002

Albert Lea Medical Center is considering closing its satellite clinics in Northwood, Garner and Alden and community leaders in Alden are upset that they aren’t being included in discussions about the facility.

According to Dr. Ruben Schmidt, a long-time resident and the former doctor

at the Alden location, community leaders didn’t even hear that a closure was pending until after the ALMC board had voted to close the facility late last week. Consequently, people in Alden are questioning the quality and kind of research that was done by the task force that ALMC set up to come with recommendations about the clinic.

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&uot;Community leaders have not been consulted or allowed any input; they’re just going to announce it and explain then,&uot; said Schmidt. He doesn’t see the wisdom of decisions that decrease patient services.

The criteria for the recommendation to close the clinic were based on three issues: Economics, Alden’s proximity to Albert Lea and whether the clinic was providing and maintaining an expanding patient base, Schmidt said.

Schmidt wonders if the task force spent as much time looking at the benefits of the clinic as they did at the deficiencies. For examples Schmidt points to ALMC decisions to close the clinic over the noon hour, and to reassign the physician at the clinic to administrative duties in Albert Lea two days each week. The Alden clinic provides a smaller alternative to the

main clinic, serving many patients who find the complexities of the bigger facility intimidating, said Schmidt.

&uot;They don’t seem to be making an attempt to respond to the challenges of a small town,&uot; he said. And since they haven’t bothered to include local residents, clinic staff or patients in their discussions, they aren’t giving local people a chance to come up with ways to help make a better clinic, Schmidt added.

Others also question the insinuation that the Alden clinic wasn’t making it financially.

&uot;They say it’s not cost-effective, but the waiting room and parking lot are usually full and it’s hard to get an appointment because they’re so busy,&uot; said Mary Reyerson, owner of a local furniture store and a former mayor of Alden.

Officials at the Alden-Conger School District also were not included in the discussions and information-gathering that was done as ALMC was making its decisions, said Rita Usselman, district superintendent.

&uot;I was totally surprised when I heard about it,&uot; said Usselman, who lives in Alden with her husband. She heard about the pending closure last Friday, when many others also found out the bad news.

The clinic makes life for school staff and students much more convenient, she said. Children don’t miss as much school when they have doctor’s appointments and staff don’t have to take a whole day off to go in to Albert Lea for their appointments or lab tests, she added.

Usselman’s parents also live in Alden, and she worries about how they and the other older residents of the community will feel about having to driving into the big clinic in Albert Lea.

&uot;I just don’t see my father being able to navigate that big parking lot and get himself into the building comfortably,&uot; she said.

According to Patti Hareid, Director of Community Relations for ALMC, no decision has been made and until one is made, they can’t answer questions about the status of the clinic. The matter at this point is considered confidential as it pertains to internal business decisions, she said.

&uot;Any changes in service delivery in Albert Lea or any of our seven regional clinics will first be communicated to providers and staff before being released to the public,&uot; said Hareid.

In an official statement, ALMC said that its commitment to patients and the community depends on good stewardship of its resources. Doing that in a fiscally responsible way requires ongoing evaluations of programs and services, they said.

While they feel that the odds are stacked against them at this point, people haven’t given up. Schmidt and others are writing letters to ALMC board members and meeting with ALMC officials to try to find a way to make a case for keeping the Alden clinic open.