Save Our Hospital group planning a trip to Rochester

Published 10:32 pm Monday, July 24, 2017

A group of concerned citizens plan to travel next month to downtown Rochester to call attention to their efforts to keep a full service, acute-care hospital in Albert Lea.

Discussion came during the weekly Albert Lea-Save our Hospital meeting Sunday in a packed room at the Albert Lea American Legion after Mayo Clinic Health System officials announced last month they intend to transition most inpatient services from Albert Lea to Austin.

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Local organizing steering committee chairwoman Angie Hanson discussed holding the event Aug. 10 to coincide with the large amount of people who attend the Thursdays on First & Third event in downtown Rochester.

At least 100 concerned citizens will need to attend the event to make it count, said Hanson, who suggested using a positive approach and signs in the process.

“This is publicity,” she said. “This is basically — as someone had said earlier — this is the court of public opinion is what we are going after here,” Hanson said. “This is their reputation — that is the point.”

Save our Hospital plans to have a visible presence at the Freeborn County Fair next month.

Steering committee co-chairperson Brad Arends said the city of Albert Lea has contacted six medical systems, Gundersen Lutheran, Allina Health, HealthPartners, Mercy, Sanford Health and United Hospital District in Blue Earth.

Two to three hospitals are interested in coming to the community but are not making their interest public right now, Arends said. 

Public relations committee chairwoman Jean Eaton suggested everyone in the room write letters to Mayo Clinic officials in Rochester.

“We want every single person in this room to write a letter, but it’s not a letter to Albert Lea — it’s a letter to (Mayo Clinic CEO John Noseworthy) and (Mayo Clinic CAO and Vice President) Jeff Bolton,” she said. 

The letters need to be positive, include personal stories, discuss how the decision to transfer most inpatient services from Albert Lea to Austin is counterproductive to Mayo Clinic’s primary value and how it will damage the legacy of hospital co-founders William and Charles Mayo, Eaton said.

Rachel Christenson, treasurer of the steering committee, said a little more than $2,000 in cash has been collected, as well as about $2,000 in pledges.

Arends and fellow steering committee co-chairperson Mariah Lynne discussed the formation of the committee and meetings they had taken part in over the last week. 

Mayo Clinic has not committed to conducting an economic analysis on how the transition will affect Albert Lea, and the hospital has refused to delay the transition, Arends said.

He said when Mayo Clinic officials were asked if they would consider selling the hospital back to the community, the hospital responded by saying it was committed to Albert Lea.

Arends said the steering committee needs to be inclusive, trustworthy, informative, respectful and committed, and he discussed outreach they made to state and federal lawmakers.

Lynne discussed contacts the organization has made with media outlets and the potential for reaching out to national news shows such as “60 Minutes” and “Good Morning America.”

Fundraising committee chairman Al Arends said he talked to someone who lives in Austin and works in Albert Lea and notices a culture difference between the two communities.

“He said whenever a problem comes up in Austin, they turn to the Hormel Foundation to solve that problem,” Al Arends said. “He said in Albert Lea, it’s the people that solve the problem. As you can see what is happening, just by looking around here, we are the little people who are going to rise up and make sure they either change their mind or give us back our hospital,” drawing cheers from the audience. 

Commitment, hard work and sufficient funds are needed for the organization to meet its goal, Al Arends said.

He spoke of possibly placing billboards on Interstate 90 near Rochester and Interstate 35 in support of the organization’s efforts.

During the meeting, the organization approved adding a member of the Minnesota Nurses Association to the steering committee, opening the committee to other stakeholders in the future and requiring steering committee members who receive an invitation to meet on the issue to receive committee approval by majority vote.

Albert Lea resident Paul Overgaard said a new provider who realizes the entire Albert Lea region deserves full-service hospital services must be found.

“This simply is not a fight we can permit anything but victory,” he said. “We must organize, pay for it, work at it — it’s our future.”

About Sam Wilmes

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

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