Taking it to the top

Published 6:51 pm Thursday, August 10, 2017

Demonstrators from Albert Lea march against Mayo changes

ROCHESTER — Approximately 150 residents from the Albert Lea area marched in downtown Rochester on Thursday to call attention to their efforts to keep a full-service, acute care hospital in Albert Lea.

Before the march began, the group gathered across from the Gonda Building and chanted phrases toward the building, denouncing Mayo Clinic Health System’s plan to transition most inpatient services to Austin, such as “M-A-Y-O, give us back our hospital,” “Destination Medical Center is gutting rural hospitals,” “If you can’t run it, give it back,” and other statements. The group then marched around a portion of the downtown district, chanting and holding up signs announcing their displeasure with the health system’s plan.

The event comes as tensions continue to simmer between the hospital and the community after Mayo Clinic Health System announced the transition in June. While most of the Albert Lea inpatient services will move to Austin, behavioral health services will move to Albert Lea.

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Emergency services, pregnancy care, outpatient surgeries, lab and radiology services will be in both locations.

The Albert Lea-Save our Hospital organization was formed following the announcement as the community attempts to keep a full-service hospital in Albert Lea.

Andrea Jensen of Albert Lea — secretary of the Save Our Hospital organization —  brought a sign that included the words “Mayo equals Goliath,” Albert Lea equals David” and “We are bringing our slingshot.”

“And my stones are caring, compassion and truth,” she said.

Jensen and her husband are small business owners, and she said the issue is important to the community’s economic well-being.

“And just the fact of having nursing homes in our town not being able to get our care for our elderly,” she said. “Having babies — my children were born in Albert Lea, we were both born in Albert Lea … our granddaughter was born there. I would like to see my continued line born in Albert Lea and taken care of. It’s very important.”

Dale Haukoos of Northwood said the transition needs to be stopped.

“It’s going to be devastating if we can’t stop this,” he said.

In a statement issued following the event, Mayo Clinic said it respected and appreciated the right of community members to express their opinions.

“But, we are disappointed by the fear and misinformation being spread by some members of the Save Our Hospital group,” the hospital stated. “Frightening patients and the community with terms like ‘life-threatening’ and ‘economically devastating’ is irresponsible and not grounded in fact. Albert Lea’s hospital is not closing. To the contrary, Mayo Clinic Health System is committed to Albert Lea and is preserving jobs and high-quality health care, and we intend to work with the community and elected officials to minimize the impact on individuals and the community.”

At the march, Albert Lea resident Mike Levisen said he hopes hospital staffing levels stay the same.

“If Mayo isn’t going to continue with it, well, let somebody else come and in and manage it,” he said. “You better think about the thousands of people in the surrounding area.”

According to the hospital, the question of whether Mayo would be willing to sell its Albert Lea hospital has been raised by the community — not Mayo.

“We have no active discussions or plans to,” the hospital stated. “We want to continue the partnership with the community of Albert Lea that began more than 20 years ago. We are working hard to help people understand that we are positioning Albert Lea for the future of health care — services that are delivered in the outpatient care setting, with fewer and fewer hospitalizations. Our vision and our shared goal with the people of Albert Lea is a thriving medical center that provides the care they use most and keeps the economy strong and growing.”

Organizer Angie Hanson said she thought the event went well.
“I think it turned out fantastic,” she said. “We had a lot of energetic people. The weather cooperated, and it was a lot of fun.”

Hanson  — local organization chairwoman for Save Our Hospital  — said she wants to keep inpatient services, the intensive care unit and the Baby Place in Albert Lea.

“I’m confident that it can happen, and we are going to work our hardest to try to make it happen,” she said.

According to Mayo Clinic, there are challenges facing rural health care.

“While our solutions to those challenges may differ, our purpose for finding those solutions is shared: doing what’s best for their communities,” the hospital stated. “We want to help community members gain a better understanding of the core services that will remain available on both campuses and how this plan positions the Albert Lea campus for stability and growth now and in the future.”

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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