Closings leave towns concerned

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 7, 2002

ALDEN &045; Community leaders went into Thursday’s meeting with Albert Lea Medical Center officials believing they could still fight for the survival of their clinic. Instead they learned that decisions had already been made.

After eight months of analyzing objective data on all seven of its satellite clinics, ALMC has marked the Alden, Northwood and Garner offices for closure or consolidation.

Alden physician Gary Lamson and his key staff members will be consolidating with the Wells clinic. Additional Alden and Northwood staffers will move to the Albert Lea clinic.

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Leaders in both Northwood and Alden are concerned about the effect the closures will have on elderly populations. Northwood has a senior transportation bus but it can’t cross state lines, and Alden lacks any means of public transit for seniors to and from clinic visits. Another Alden concern is the increased school absences of children who would previously miss just a small amount of time visiting the clinic in town.

Residents of both towns were most upset at being excluded from the decision making process.

&uot;Its like getting a divorce without telling your partner until all the legal work is done,&uot; said Dr. Ruben Schmidt, longtime Alden resident and former doctor at the Alden clinic.

ALMC representatives said communities were not involved in the decision-making process because the task force wanted to only consider objective information, and knew the residents would be too emotional.

A task force to explore Alden’s options is at the beginning stages. Members are already planning to meet with Allina Health Care systems and the Mankato Clinic chain in hopes of bringing a new clinic to Alden.

In evaluating the viability of the seven clinics the ALMC operations committee appointed a task force to consider whether each met three criteria: First, whether the clinic delivered convenient health care to its patients; second, whether it provided an expanded patient base for the ALMC; and finally, whether it made a positive contribution to ALMC financially.

ALMC chairman and CEO Dr. Ron Harmon said the three clinics failed to meet either all or a majority of the criteria. The decision to close the clinics traveled through ALMC’s board of trustees and had to be approved by the Mayo Health Systems Board of Governors before it could be finalized.

Northwood resident Shana Butler, a Worth County public health nurse, questioned the financial reasoning behind the closures. &uot;I can’t believe Mayo isn’t large enough to absorb some losses to ensure quality health care,&uot; she said.

A closing date hasn’t been specified for the Alden clinic; ALMC officials said it will depend on how Dr. Lamson can be integrated at the Wells clinic. In Northwood, officials stated the clinic would be closed before the end of the summer.

ALMC President Steven Waldoff suggested the Alden building may be still used to house transcriptionists, be a business office location for ALMC’s billing department, or become the base of ALMC’s home health care operations.

Waldoff also mentioned expanding office hours at the Wells clinic so that even though patients would have to travel, appointment times would become more flexible. ALMC also said it was willing to consider helping develop new transportation services.

Despite ALMC’s efforts to ease the blow, Alden residents were still upset.

Alden Pastor the Rev. Peter Solei called the &uot;whole event a breach of trust.&uot;

&uot;ALMC advertising refers to the community as its ‘partner,’&uot; said Schmidt. &uot;I don’t know how they can treat their partners like this. They’re creating a real negative image in the community.&uot;