City staff to contact attorney general for help with Mayo Clinic

Published 10:21 pm Monday, August 14, 2017

The Albert Lea City Council on Monday unanimously directed city staff to contact the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office in connection with Mayo Clinic Health System’s planned transition of most inpatient services from Albert Lea to Austin.

The 5-0 vote was met with a standing ovation by dozens of community members who filled the room, and board action came as tension remains evident between the hospital and the community after Mayo Clinic Health System announced the planned transition in June.

Councilors Robert Rasmussen, Reid Olson, Larry Baker, Rich Murray and Al “Minnow” Brooks voted yes. 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.

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“We know it’s going to fall on just a few (council) members to make decisions,” said Al Arends, fundraising chairman for the Save Our Hospital organization, in a public forum preceding the vote. “The decisions you are going to be making (are) going to have a terrific impact on your community, on the community of all of these people. We believe that it’s very important that you take action.”

Arends said a lawyer told him the city should join Freeborn County and other municipalities to petition a hearing with Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson, who could stop the transition immediately, he said.

Arends suggested city staff discuss concerns about what he said were a lack of competition in local health care and concerns about high local insurance premiums.

“He (the lawyer) said ‘that case should be made with the attorney general,’” Arends said. “He said, ‘remember, the attorney general is a public position.’ And, with enough pressure, she will listen to us.”

Albert Lea City Manager Chad Adams said he has had meetings with politicians, community members and Mayo Clinic leaders. Possible options for the city include asking Mayo Clinic to delay part of or the entire transition, and the city is researching the possibility of owning the hospital, financing the hospital, having a second provider come into the city or financing the entrance of a second provider into the community. The city does not currently have grounds to file a temporary restraining order or use public dollars to fund a lawsuit, Adams said.

Fourth Ward Councilor Olson entered the motion, and 1st Ward Councilor Murray thanked Adams for his work during a meeting they both attended with Mayo Clinic.

“He went toe to toe, and he represented you very well,” Murray told the crowd. 

Sixth Ward Councilor Brooks said he would stand by the people who elected him as councilor.

Fifth Ward Councilor Rasmussen pledged to work as hard as the community is to keep most inpatient services in Albert Lea.

“We are putting our heart and soul into this, and we will fight the fight just like you,” he said.

Community members discussed the negative economic and health impacts they said the transition will have on the Albert Lea community, and councilors were urged to support keeping inpatient services in Albert Lea.

Despite community objections, Mayo Clinic Health System has shown no sign it will slow the planned transition after the council last month requested Mayo delay the planned transition.

“It is our understanding that the Freeborn County Attorney has already requested a review of certain legal documents by the office of the Minnesota Attorney General. We supplied all requested documents to the Freeborn County Attorney, and have had no further contact from his office or the attorney general,” Mayo Clinic officials said in a statement via email Monday night. “We are unclear about the purpose of this additional request to the Albert Lea City Council.”

The health system informed three health unit coordinators last month their positions would be eliminated by the end of September as the hospital plans to move the intensive care unit 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.

About Sam Wilmes

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

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