Editorial: Handling of clinics led to towns’ mistrust

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 7, 2002

Albert Lea Medical Center says it has sound reasons for closing clinics in Alden, Northwood and Garner: Basically, they were too small and too close to other clinics to make sense.

That’s all fine. Perhaps ALMC really does need to close those clinics if it’s to do what is best for all of its patients by saving money and (we hope) using the savings to keep the cost of healthcare from rising as fast at its other clinics.

ALMC’s reasons are really not hard to swallow; what is difficult to take is the manner in which the decision was handled. Officials ignored what should be the number-one rule of public relations: When you’re secretive, when you refuse to answer questions or allow input, you look like you’re hiding something and you lose trust.

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It’s understandable that people in Alden, for instance, are upset that they will be losing a major contributor to their town’s quality of life. Convenient health care in a familiar setting is something the residents in all three affected cities are used to. However, as much as residents don’t like the decision, it’s likely they could have handled it better if only ALMC would have been upfront with them. As it was, officials would not even speak to Alden residents about the possiblity of the clinic closing until after the decision had been made.

Regardless of how they were handled, the clinic closings themselves should also shine a light on problems in the health-care industry, including the unfair amount of Medicare reimbursement provided for rural health care providers. Thanks to a flawed system, clinics like ALMCs only get a portion of the price they would charge for services when a patient uses Medicare. This significantly hurts the ability of rural clinics to stay solvent.

If ALMC had started explaining those kinds of things to Alden and Northwood residents weeks ago, maybe those people would have an easier time with the decision. Instead, those communities are finding it hard to get past the mistrust this situation has created.