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School board: Full-service hospital “crucial”

Members say hospital important for recruiting

The Albert Lea School Board passed a resolution Monday night supporting community efforts to maintain an acute-care, full-service hospital in Albert Lea.

A large crowd of community members were present at Brookside Education Center as the board members heard, amended and passed the resolution presented by board Chairman Ken Petersen.

The resolution discussed how a full-service hospital is crucial for the district in recruiting and retaining quality staff.

The resolution came a little over a month after Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea officials announced the organization’s plans to move most inpatient services from Albert Lea to Austin.

After reading the resolution aloud, Petersen requested modifications to the statement as the board saw fit.

The first modification was made by school board director Jill Marin.

“I would also add that (the preservation of services) has to do with our student wellness as well as family wellness,” Marin said.

After Marin’s comment, school board clerk Neal Skaar sought a clarification on the proposed resolution by asking the board, “You are suggesting that without a full-service hospital, we may lose our edge in attracting teachers to our district, correct?”

She clarified that not only does the hospital’s presence contribute to building a strong staff in the school district, but it also individually affects the health of students and families in Albert Lea.

Following Marin’s answer, Skaar excused himself for possible redundancy and requested that the resolution be amended to read, “acute care” in conjunction with “full-service.” With those changes, Skaar moved that the school board adopt the modified resolution after the discussion.

“The community has been pretty responsive here and a number of us on the board have been a part of that,” Skaar said. “And I just can’t imagine any board or commissioners or council people — anybody that is concerned with the future of Albert Lea — I can’t imagine them not supporting something like this. Medical care is a product that is not very lasting — if you need it, you need it, and you can’t go someplace else.

“We would be severely strapped if we did not have available — in this location, Albert Lea — an acute-care, full-service hospital,” he said.

Skaar also commented on metaphoric ripples that would extend in every direction without an acute-care, full-service hospital in the Albert Lea and surrounding community. He warned of possible fluctuations in growth without an extensive lineup of hospital services to offer prospective community members.

Skaar summarized his thoughts by commenting on and crediting the people in the community who are working hard to improve the economic climate of Albert Lea.

Vice Chairman Dave Klatt addressed the board and said, “From a personal standpoint, too — all I can say is, my oldest son and his wife are moving back to the area and were looking for housing — this is definitely part of the discussion. There are more factors than that but it is something that, as you want to start a family and things like that, you know, you have to keep everything in mind.”

Immediately after Klatt’s comments, Petersen took the opportunity to say, “I did speak to a CFO from another hospital chain, and the comment was that he doesn’t believe there is a town that has over 10,000 people that does not have a hospital.”

With school board treasurer and Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea and Austin CEO Mark Ciota present and quiet at the board table, Petersen said, “I think it is important to understand that Dr. Ciota is in a challenging spot, and he needs to abstain (from the discussion and vote), and we certainly understand that.”

Ciota has been with the Albert Lea hospital — now known as Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea — since August 1995, after completing his training in Dayton, Ohio. He became chief executive officer of the Albert Lea location in 2004 and CEO of Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea and Austin in 2012.

“I know this is very sensitive for Mark (Ciota), and I sympathize with a lot of people who are involved in Mayo health care,” Skaar said. “Mayo does an absolutely superb job — second to none — dealing with developmental medical conditions, but I think they are a little bit lacking in dealing with a commitment to community.”

Skaar added he thinks corporate mentality sometimes gets in the way of a concern for the needs of individuals. He said he would hate to have the current occasion serve as a wedge that creates hard feelings in the community.

“I would hate to be a part of any movement that suggests that people are evil because they take a particular stand,” Skaar said.

Just before the vote, Marin said, “I will just add that I do support this resolution, and I believe this is a quality of life issue for our students and families.”

The resolution passed unanimously.

Because of Ciota’s position of leadership between the two entities, he did not cast a vote on the resolution or comment during the discussion.

About Evelyn Seffinga

Evelyn Seffinga covers education and arts and culture for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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