Many gather for Mayo Clinic effort

Published 10:23 pm Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Residents hope to keep inpatient services in Albert Lea

Dozens of concerned Albert Lea residents discussed forming committees Wednesday in Albert Lea City Council Chambers so a more organized attempt could be made to keep most inpatient services in the city.

The discussion came in the wake of last month’s announcement by Mayo Clinic Health System that it would transition most inpatient services from its Albert Lea campus to Austin.

The meeting was led by Minnesota Nurses Union organizer Jay Armstrong, less than one week after more than 700 people gathered in the Albert Lea High School auditorium to discuss the planned transition in a question-and-answer session with Mayo Clinic Health System leaders.

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A meeting to form small committees is planned at 2 p.m. Thursday at Grace Christian Church.

Planned steering committees include teams dedicated to steering, outreach, research, fundraising, legal topics and public relations.

A group that includes retired Albert Lea businessman Al Arends and Assistant City Manager Jerry Gabrielatos plans to attend a meeting Thursday in Fairmont with city residents Tom Hawkins and Donna Holstein. Fairmont officials have expressed concern that important inpatient services have been transitioned from Fairmont to Mankato.

Local residents concerned about the transition plan to attend the Freeborn County Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday, as well as the next Wind Down Wednesday on July 19.  A large group meeting is planned for Monday, but a place for the meeting had not been set as of press time.

According to a sheet distributed to meeting attendees, organizers and community members need to look into comments made by Mayo Clinic Health System officials about the scope of the transition and request proof the hospital lost $8 million in Albert Lea and Austin last year.

Meeting participants established that keeping a full-service hospital is their main goal, and they stressed that not resorting to personal attacks — focusing on what they are promoting instead — will be beneficial.

Albert Lea resident Angie Hanson asked if a national follow-up story to the city’s Blue Zones designation could be done, with possible effects the transition will have on the health of the community.

Albert Lea resident Sara Aeikens said proper research needs to be undertaken during the process, and she said respectful behavior will be needed.

Having individual meetings with local and state elected and perspective officials was discussed, as was the importance of writing letters to the editor, guest columns, making phone calls and taking their message directly to Mayo Clinic.

The possibility of picketing in front of Mayo Clinic in Rochester and walking on Interstate 90 between Albert Lea and Austin was mentioned.

Armstrong said the meeting was needed for the community to be able to respond properly the situation.

“There is a moment of opportunity in situations like this, that if you don’t grab that opportunity, it’s lost, and then it’s very difficult to get back,” he said. “So, if we didn’t have somebody step up now to help kind of give that spark, it may have been lost. We’re going to work with what we have and try to continue the momentum.”

Mayo Clinic Health System public affairs specialist Mandie Siems said the hospital is aware Armstrong distributed letters to community members following last Thursday’s meeting.

“We don’t know what may have been shared at that meeting,” she said. “As a longtime member of the community committed to Albert Lea now and in the future, Mayo Clinic Health System will continue to work with community members and groups to build sustainable health care for current and future generations,” she said.

The first of the changes in the transition is expected to be moving the intensive care unit in Albert Lea to Austin in October.

Inpatient surgeries are slated to move to Austin in January 2018, and the behavioral health center is expected to move from Austin to Albert Lea in 2019. Labor and delivery services will be the last to relocate to Austin in late 2019 or early 2020.

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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