ALMC makes clinic closings official

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 6, 2002

Albert Lea Medical center today announced plans to close its Alden, Northwood, Iowa and Garner, Iowa clinics within three to 12 months, but stressed that if doctors agree to transfer, patients in those towns can still see their regular healthcare providers &045; they’ll just have to drive 10 to 15 minutes to do it.

ALMC will consolidate staff and services from the clinics with locations in Albert Lea, Kiester, New Richland and Wells, according to a statement issued by the organization this morning.

&uot;By consolidating these services, patients can still receive care within about 10 minutes of their communities,” Ronald Harmon, M.D., president and CFO of ALMC said in the statement.

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Alden residents, however, have not been happy with how the clinic handled the closing plans, which became public last month.

&uot;I’m not happy about it,&uot; said Alden resident and city council member Lori Nelson. &uot;Obviously our feelings have nothing to do with their decision to close it. I really don’t think their basis for closing was valid.&uot;

ALMC said an in-depth assessment of its seven regional clinics led to the decision to close the satellite offices. Financial factors, such as steadily declining reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid for rural areas, also make it difficult for healthcare organizations to deliver services as they traditionally have, Harmon said.

&uot;When you receive less than 50 cents on the dollar for Medicare and Medicaid patient care, that puts an undue burden on our patients, the medical center, commercial payers,&uot; Harmon said.

Smaller population bases in Garner and Northwood, along with overwhelming patient preference for specialized care and services at Iowa-based healthcare organizations, are other factors considered in clinic assessments, the statement said. Patients also have the option of choosing an Iowa-based clinic and provider located in each of those communities.

The Alden Clinic is unique, ALMC said, because of its close proximity to Albert Lea, Wells and other ALMC regional clinics.

&uot;Patients in the Alden area may travel 10 to 12 minutes to Albert Lea or Wells for ALMC services or to our Kiester or New Richland Clinics within about 15 minutes,&uot; Dr. Harmon says.

&uot;We have also made special accommodations to place providers and staff from Alden, Garner and Northwood Clinics in our other clinic sites, if they so choose,&uot; Dr. Harmon says. &uot;From expanded tuition reimbursement opportunities to priority placement in ALMC positions with similar skill levels, we look forward to our Alden, Garner and Northwood Clinic providers and staff staying within our organization.&uot;

Dr. Ruben Schmidt, who joined the Alden Clinic in 1948 and practiced until his retirement in 1985, and also served as the mayor of Alden for 15 years, said he didn’t approve of the way ALMC handled the situation. The organization didn’t consult with local officials or residents and would not respond to inquiries once the news got out about the possible closing.

&uot;I’m not a troublemaker, I just don’t like what’s going on,&uot; he said. &uot;I’m willing to challenge the corporations that don’t communicate what’s going on. They have a closed mouth and we’re very upset with a corporation. This is big business, (and) it’s the way they do things.&uot;

ALMC said it plans to take into consideration community interests and needs during the transition process and maintain the current level of services and hours at Alden, Garner and Northwood clinics until each building closes. Plans also include how to best accommodate increased patient volume in Albert Lea, Kiester, Lake Mills and New Richland clinics as the other clinics close. Assessment of the service area and how to best meet the needs of all patients will be ongoing.

&uot;To sustain our mission, we must continually review our programs and allocate resources in a manner that ensures the continuity of quality patient care for all the patients and communities we serve,&uot; Harmon said.