Residents to officials: ‘We want it here’

Published 11:15 pm Tuesday, July 11, 2017

People voice concerns about moving Mayo Clinic inpatient services

Community members urged Albert Lea and Freeborn County officials to support keeping an urgent care hospital in Albert Lea in two meetings this week, nearly one month after Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea and Austin announced plans to transition most inpatient services from its Albert Lea to Austin campus.

Albert Lea resident Jan Mattson said during the Albert Lea City Council meeting Monday that if the council and community do not come together and prevent the city from losing most inpatient services, the city will no longer exist.

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“We have 18,000 people here,” she said. “We want it here.”

Tony Trow spoke at both the City Council and Freeborn County Board of Commissioner meetings and urged councilors to pass a resolution to save the hospital. Resident Don Sorensen predicted the most skilled jobs at the hospital would leave Albert Lea first, saying it would “cascade and devastate” Albert Lea. He requested the hospital be returned to Albert Lea.

Retired doctor Bill Buege spoke at both meetings, saying he opposed Mayo purchasing what was then Naeve Hospital. Buege was employed at Mayo Clinic until Dec. 31, 1999, when he resigned because of his disagreement with how the hospital was operating.

He said though Mayo Clinic is a world-renowned medical provider that is good at treating conditions, the hospital is not good at practicing medicine in a small town, and he called them “arrogant.”

“It’s your job to ensure that we have a hospital in this area so people can be taken care of here,” he said.

Albert Lea CIty Manager Chad Adams presented an overview of steps the city has taken since the transition was announced and possible future measures officials could take as the planned transition unfolds.

City officials have reached out to legal counsel to explore their options, Adams said. He said the city has reached out to SMART Transit about possibly helping local residents travel to Austin — possibly eight to 10 trips a day — to see patients. He discussed having a small user fee, with Mayo possibly undertaking a large portion of the cost to make it more affordable for users.

The city has also looked into other communities that have city or county hospitals, which are separate business entities — existing under the city or county umbrella — that are generally required to operate on their own.

Adams said the city has reached out to most major hospitals within 200 miles. He acknowledged that though most hospital officials have stated it would be challenging to move to the community under the current circumstances, they did say there are unanswered questions that need to be answered from Mayo Clinic Health System.

He mentioned another health care provider could purchase the facility Mayo Clinic Health System owns, if state approval is secured.The prospect of community leaders forming a more formal community task force was discussed.

“It’s not impossible to have another hospital provider come into the community,” he said.

The first of the changes in the transition will 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.

Community members expressed concern about the possible effects of moving the ICU to Austin at least two years before labor and delivery services are moved.

Adams discussed city officials possibly meeting with Mayo officials to request the transition be delayed. Mayo Clinic Health System is interested in hosting future community forums on the transition, he said.

Albert Lea Mayor Vern Rasmussen Jr. and Albert Lea 3rd Ward councilor Jason Howland have recused themselves from Mayo-related agenda items, due to their employment with the hospital system.

Rasmussen is a physical therapist at the HealthReach campus of Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea. Howland is employed in the public affairs department at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

During the council meeting, councilors authorized city officials to work as diligently as possible to keep an acute-care hospital in the community.

Fourth Ward Councilor Reid Olson said the community needs to be the No. 1 focus in the work of government officials.

“We need options, we need to find what’s best for Albert Lea,” he said.

Fifth Ward Councilor Robert Rasmussen said the council would do everything it can legally and morally to save the hospital and save jobs.

According to a statement from Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea and Austin, the hospital cares very deeply about health care in the community and is pleased to be Albert Lea’s hospital.

“In order to preserve all the services that our patients and communities need, we are adjusting the services we provide on each campus of our hospital to reduce duplication and address staffing challenges,” the statement reads. “The services that patients use most will continue to be available on both campuses.”

Patients who currently come to the Albert Lea campus for emergency room or urgent care, specialists, doctor visits, wellness checks, immunizations, pregnancy care or women’s health concerns, cancer care, outpatient surgeries, blood draws, X-rays or for pharmacy services will continue to be able to be seen in Albert Lea, the statement reads.

“We hope that Albert Lea residents will look past the misinformation that is being spread around the community by outside organizers and recognize that Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea and Austin will together continue to be a full-service hospital dedicated to meeting their needs.”

About Sam Wilmes

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

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