Julie Seedorf: Small towns have grieved earlier hospital losses

Published 10:00 pm Sunday, June 18, 2017

Something About Nothing, By Julie Seedorf

I was born in the Albert Lea hospital. It was not too long after my birth that the Wells hospital opened in my community. My three children were born in the Wells hospital with the same doctor delivering all three. The amazing fact is that the same doctor delivered both my husband and I in the Albert Lea hospital many years before.

The Wells Hospital was the place where my family and friends were admitted when they had an illness. My uncles were well cared for in our hometown hospital after heart attacks and illnesses. It is the hospital where my dad died, surrounded by caring people who knew him. It was in that hospital where I took my kids for those emergency things that happen with kids, stitches, late night illnesses and false alarms.

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I lived two blocks from the hospital when my children were born, and it was good I did because I was never in labor very long. I might not have made it to Albert Lea. Doctors from the Albert Lea hospital had privileges in our hospital, and when my husband had to have an emergency appendectomy, they called Dr. Harry Neel from Albert Lea because our doctors were gone. I remember laughing when he walked into the hospital with a few pieces of Kleenex on his face from nicking himself shaving. I worried a little as he went into the operating room, but everything turned out fine.

I have a vague first memory of going to the doctor when I was little. I must have been around 4 or 5 years old. I remember I was afraid of the doctor because I didn’t like shots. At that time the doctor’s office was on the ground floor of a four-story office and apartment building. Later on, my doctors, Dick and Mark Virnig, built their own clinic. A few short blocks away, Dr. Watkins also had his own clinic, and usually he had another doctor along with him in his practice. I remember my dad being treated by Doc Cullen who was also a doctor here for many years.

When someone was sick we always were able to get in to our doctor the same day. It might have been a little of a wait, but we were able to see our family doctor. Because the doctors knew their patients and there was continuity, they were able to see if something was off or not quite right if we weren’t able to tell them the entire story of how we were feeling. You might say they knew how to read between the lines of our bodies.

When we needed a specialist, we were sent to the Albert Lea Clinic. My children were also patients of Dr. Barr and Dr. Karon. They knew my children, too, and that helped them in any diagnosis because they knew when something had changed. I was a patient of Dr. Treanor. He suspected an undiagnosed illness unrelated to his specialty because he knew me. I remember him saying to me, “This isn’t you; we need to investigate this further.” He sent me immediately to another specialist, and they diagnosed my problem that other doctors who did not know me missed and put down to anxiety.

My family moved to another close-by community for a few years, and we continued our care under Dr. John Tveite of the Albert Lea Clinic who practiced in New Richland. He, too, knew my kids and me and caught things quickly that today would take time to be diagnosed because of unfamiliarity of the patient.

The Wells Hospital closed while we lived in New Richland. There is a grief that goes along with a hospital closing. The closing  happened about the same time we lost our own hometown doctors. There was a grief with that too. We still had the clinic run by the Albert Lea Clinic, and we still had doctors who were constant and familiar provided by Albert Lea. Same day appointments were still the norm. Doctors didn’t seem to stay as long but those that did, knew us.

Eventually the Albert Lea Clinic got bought out by the Mayo Clinic. Our care changed. And again the grief hit those of us in a small community. We still had good doctors and physicians’ assistants or nurse practitioners, but it was harder to get an appointment. More and more things were moved to Albert Lea, and it meant travel time and more time lost from work. I live two houses away from the clinic, and there were times in the years I couldn’t get in when I was sick so I had to travel.

The doctors’ abilities to do their job changed, too, because of paperwork, insurance restrictions and some tests being moved. When I was sick and needed an inhaler my doctor had to call my insurance company many times to find an inhaler I could afford.

When my first child was born we didn’t have insurance. But we could pay for the care because it was a time when insurance companies were not prevalent, and you really didn’t need a lot of coverage. That changed over the years, but we always felt comforted if we couldn’t afford something the clinics would work with us on payment. We constantly had a payment to the medical facility when my kids were growing up.

Yes, the world of medicine has changed. I have a cousin who was a pediatrician in California, and he retired early because he could no longer treat his patients the way he felt best. The medical facility and the insurance company held the power.

This week I grieve with the community of Albert Lea and the loss of inpatient care in their hospital. My community has been through the grieving process, and in some ways it continues today.

I don’t understand why inpatient care couldn’t have been centralized in Albert Lea because it was a more central place for those of us in small communities to the west.

Austin is close to Rochester. Many people get transferred to Rochester. But for us to travel  to Austin, according to Google maps, it is 41 miles. It is 22 miles from Wells to Albert Lea. From Austin to Rochester it is 43 miles. Those to the east of Austin, halfway in between are closer to the Austin hospital and the Rochester hospital than those of us on the west side of Albert Lea.

Of course we do have other options here in our community. We do have a United Hospital District clinic in our community. The hospital in Blue Earth is 27 miles. The distance to Mankato and medical care is 37 miles if we choose to drive the same distance as it is to Austin. In Mankato, they have the Mankato Clinic and the hospital and clinic owned by Mayo.

For an elderly person from our outlying communities having to visit their spouse in the hospital or to those who have to take moments off of work to sit with a loved one who is hospitalized, the distance will make a difference, especially in the winter.

I know I am old, and grieving is part of the process of change. Change can be positive, and I guess in instances where we have no control all we can do is have a positive attitude toward that change. It can never go back to what it was, but hopefully the future and the changes are something someday our residents in the community will say, “I didn’t think it would work, but it has, and we have the best health care in the world.”

The jury is still out.

Wells resident Julie Seedorf’s column appears every Monday. Send email to her at hermionyvidaliabooks@gmail.com.