Letter: What is long-term fate of A.L.’s ER?

Published 10:00 pm Thursday, June 22, 2017

Many local voices have been raised in response to Mayo’s recent decision to shut down the hospital in Albert Lea. If we raise our eyes beyond the community, this decision provides yet more evidence of how broken the U.S. medical care system is, with no real solutions in sight anywhere. Hospitals are expensive, and keeping this one operating imposes a financial burden on all of us, not just Mayo. From a purely financial perspective, closing down facilities like the hospital in Albert Lea probably makes sense.

All that said, there are important issues that Mayo is not addressing directly.

The first is how they decided to pick economic winners and losers in this region. Austin wins. They get multi-million dollar investments into their hospital and clinic. Albert Lea loses. We get, well, Fountain Lake and the psychiatric services unit, but without any multi-million dollar investments.

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The second is the real story about emergency room service in Albert Lea. Apologies if this is too much information for readers, but I’ve been in the ER more than once because of cardiac issues. During two of those visits, because of the syncopated percussion in my chest, there was serious discussion of holding me overnight for observation. Mayo surgeons fixed my syncopated rhythms, but what if someone else is experiencing the same issues? What happens to that discussion of overnight observation? Does it not happen or does Mayo pay to transport the patient over to Austin for the night? What about serious injuries in Alden or Lake Mills that required emergency room visits followed by an admission to the hospital? Will the ambulances simply bypass Albert Lea and deliver those patients to Austin (adding 30 to 40 minutes to the trip)?

What I suspect is that the long term fate of the emergency room in Albert Lea is yet to be determined. With no way to hold patients even 12 hours for observation, just to be on the safe side, the service here will become more like a glorified urgent care service center, with all serious emergencies deflected away. And that’s a problem for anybody who plans on living here long term, whatever their age and health.

David Behling

Albert Lea