Editorial: Albert Lea community deserves more explanation

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, June 20, 2017

It has been more than a week since Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea and Austin officials announced plans to consolidate most inpatient services to the organization’s Austin campus. With that comes moving the intensive care unit, major surgeries that require overnight hospitalization and childbirth. The change is expected to take place over the next three years.

The behavioral services unit will also move from the Austin campus to the Albert Lea campus, and the changes will require a $25 million investment in total at both locations, much of which will be in Austin.

We at the Tribune were as shocked as the rest of the community to hear the news and arrived at the media briefing June 13 with a page full of questions we hoped to have answered. We had a handful of our questions answered, but unfortunately left the briefing that day with many more. That list continues to grow as time goes on.

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Mayo Clinic Health System officials have cited a nationwide physician shortage, rising costs and declining reimbursements as reasons for their announced changes. At some level, anyone who manages their home finances or a business understands that you can’t operate at a loss. Something has to give. If this is the case, we ask that the health system provide detailed financial reports to the community to show why this is needed. Was the organization operating at a loss or close to it? Did the Austin campus have better profitability than the Albert Lea campus? What is expected to be saved by moving forward with this decision?

Aside from the business end of the announcement, we had some concerns with a few of the specific changes. While we think having scheduled surgeries in Austin will be a relatively easy transition for most residents, we have questions about other overnight hospital stays that will require transporting patients to Austin.

Elderly patients who fall are often required to be held over for observation. Moving these patients to Rochester seems like an unnecessary expense for both the patient and the hospital. We are also concerned with moving The Baby Place from Albert Lea and the risk this may have for mothers in labor.

Although officials have stated emergency room services will be maintained, we believe that times are about to get riskier for the high-risk patients. Will surgeons be on hand for patients who need emergency surgery, or will these patients need to be transported to Austin for this to take place? Sometimes a few minutes can mean the difference in life and death.

These and many additional questions we and others would like to get answered. We ask hospital officials to put yourselves in the shoes of your patients and be transparent in the discussions about these changes.

Consider having a community meeting to allow concerned residents to voice their opinions and questions while giving Mayo officials the opportunity to respond all in one setting.