Attorney general visits Albert Lea to discuss transition of inpatient services

Published 5:28 pm Monday, August 21, 2017

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson and officials from other state agencies visited Albert Lea on Monday to discuss the possible impact from Mayo Clinic Health System’s planned transition of most inpatient services from Albert Lea to Austin with local representatives in a private meeting.

“I think there was a consensus that we should try to go back together, using the help of the Minnesota Department of Health and other local officials, to try to get some of those financial (documents) pulled together,” Swanson said after the meeting.

The meeting included numerous state agencies, representatives from the Freeborn County Board of Commissioners, Albert Lea City Council and other local representatives.

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Swanson did not commit to attempting to stop the planned transition of most inpatient services, which is expected to begin with the move of the intensive care unit to Austin in October.

“That’s putting the cart ahead of the horse,” she said.

Swanson’s visit came five days after Assistant Attorney General Benjamin Velzen, assistant attorney general and manager of the charities division, authored a four-page letter to Mayo Clinic confirming a review of Mayo’s consolidation plans in Albert Lea, while also requesting information requesting information or data via 23 specific questions broken down under two categories: “Questions regarding governance and decision-making process” and “Questions regarding use of restricted assets.”

The letter requested the hospital provide a detailed description of services that would no longer be offered at each campus and meeting minutes when plans for the transition were discussed. The office requested the hospital provide information of all current and former board members, directors and officers of the health system board since the beginning of 2016 and whether they “reviewed, deliberated or voted” on the transition. It asked for a copy of the facilities analysis completed prior to the decision being made.

The office requested the health system identify donations received by the Naeve Health Care Foundation and The Hormel Foundation as well as documents showing the health system’s financial statements for the past three years and evidence showing it has had difficulty attracting physicians to work at the hospital, among others.

Swanson’s office requested Mayo’s response by Aug. 30.

Bylaws give the hospital substantial authority, said Swanson, who stated the hospital has to have a supermajority vote of at least 10 of 13 members on its board of directors to discontinue services within its corporation, but Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea and Austin is one corporate entity with two hospitals. The hospital can remove board members who do not vote the way it wants them to, she said.

Swanson said she wants to see Mayo engage in community discussions in the future, and she thinks the transition was sprung on the community without advanced notice, meetings or dialogue.

In a statement issued Monday afternoon, Mayo Clinic Health System stated, “We appreciate the interest from elected officials in the challenges we’re facing in rural health. These challenges are not unique to southeast Minnesota or to Mayo Clinic Health System, and the changes we’re making are intended to keep both the Albert Lea and Austin campuses viable and available to current and future generations of patients.”

A community stakeholder panel with representatives from Mayo Clinic Health System, the city of Albert Lea and Freeborn County has been formed.

“We are also meeting with local business groups and service clubs to listen and address concerns,” the health system stated.

The stakeholder panel is scheduled to meet on an ongoing basis over the next several months to discuss the planned transition, address concerns from the community and oversee completion of an economic impact analysis, which is expected to be completed in the near future, the health system stated.

After the meeting, Department of Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger said he appreciated the visit.

“It was nice to come down here to talk with city and county officials to see what their concerns were — what they’ve done so far to address the issue of possibly losing some of the services at the local hospital,” he said. “To get their take on it and really ask some questions of local leaders and see what the attorney general was thinking about in her way of addressing this.”

Ehlinger said Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton told him earlier this week he was concerned the hospital made the decision to transfer most inpatient services without engaging the community.

Ehlinger said community engagement and a comprehensive look at the full impact the transition will have on the community is needed.

Dayton and Lt. Gov. Tina Smith issued a joint statement Monday morning echoing this sentiment after receiving what a press release described as “a number of inquiries.”

“Mayo Clinic owes it to the Albert Lea community, and any community it serves, to engage the public in an open discussion about the impact of its business decisions on people. Minnesotans in Albert Lea rely on Mayo Clinic for essential care and services, and they deserve an open discussion, especially when a decision like this affects so many.”


About Sam Wilmes

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

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