City eyes forensic accountant in Mayo transition

Published 2:46 pm Friday, September 8, 2017

The Albert Lea City Council could decide to hire a forensic accountant on Monday to evaluate the financial situation of Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea and Austin, as the hospital system plans to transition most inpatient services to its Austin campus.

Albert Lea City Manager Chad Adams said the council could agree to co-fund an accountant to determine the reasons for financial losses at the Albert Lea and Austin campuses. The person would also look at the feasibility of making the Albert Lea hospital “profitable both short term and long term through maintaining a full-service, acute-care hospital.”

The possible hiring of a forensic consultant comes a few months after Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea and Austin stated the two hospitals had a combined net operating loss of $4.6 million in 2015 and $8 million last year.

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Adams said though the cost-share for the city to hire a forensic health accountant is still under review, more information could be available at Monday’s meeting.

“I am currently reviewing options and receiving quotes for these services,” he said in a report.

Adams said the council has expressed support for contributing money to hire a forensic accountant.

“The sense that I got from the council is that they thought that it was reasonable — it was a reasonable use of city dollars,” he said. “But, I think the one thing that we talked about is, go out and vette this with the public, see what the public’s thoughts are on this.”

Adams said he has not seen a financial forecast from the hospital. Mayo spokeswoman Ginger Plumbo said Mayo Clinic does not share detailed financial information for proprietary reasons.

The city has received requests from Albert Lea-Save Our Hospital to help fund the hiring of a forensic accountant.

Plumbo said though the hospital system’s financial situation was a factor in its decision to transfer most inpatient services to Austin, it “was not the major driver.” Mayo Clinic Health System’s struggle to recruit and retain health care professionals in a rural setting were factors in the decision, said Plumbo, who added the hospital system’s staffing shortage creates a safety concern for patients who are in the hospital for multiple days.

Save Our Hospital co-chairperson Mariah Lynne said the organization on Sunday could give final approval to donate up to $25,000 from fundraising contributions to the hiring of a forensic consultant.

Save Our Hospital needs to spend the money from fundraising donations because Mayo has not been transparent with the community, said Lynne, who added Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson advised the organization to hire a forensic accountant who specializes in health care and can analyze whether the hospital system could remain profitable by keeping a full-service, acute-care hospital in Albert Lea.

Lynne said Mayo has been “arrogant” in the way it has communicated with officials and the community it serves, and Lynne and Adams requested Mayo Clinic delay its planned transition.

Plumbo said though the hospital does want to be responsive to the community, delaying the transition is not possible because of low staffing levels. One-third of patients who come to Rochester from Albert Lea for ICU services do so because of a lack of staffing, she said.

“It’s not in the best interest of Albert Lea to delay,” said Plumbo, who added delaying the transition could leave the community in a more difficult situation.

Swanson is still assessing possible antitrust violations by Mayo Clinic Health System, Lynne said. 

Lynne and Adams said they received information that conflicts with the health system’s claim that keeping full-service, acute-care hospitals in Albert Lea and Austin is not sustainable.

“It’s hard to understand, based on the information that I’m getting more outside of Mayo on the context of the numbers and the context of our hospital and what we’re potentially able to do from a profitable standpoint with our hospital, versus the information that we’re getting from Mayo,” Adams said. “It’s swayed my belief and questioning of ‘is it true?’ and ‘will it be sustainable?’”

The council’s possible action comes as negative feedback about the transition continues to build from state and local representatives.

In a letter sent Friday to Mayo Clinic CEO John Noseworthy, former Minnesota Speaker of the House and current gubernatorial candidate Paul Thissen urged the health system to “pause” the transition, explore alternative options to transferring inpatient services and rebuild trust with the community.

Thissen discussed his effort in passing Destination Medical Center legislation, but said that a vibrant Mayo Clinic would not mean much to residents of a rural area that cannot get access to a health care provider.

“The significant state support for that effort — support which benefits Mayo immensely — creates in a very deep and meaningful sense a partnership between the Mayo Clinic, the city of Rochester and all Minnesotans,” the letter stated. “And with that comes responsibility for and obligations to one another. With its current course of action, including the lack of meaningful public engagement around the service elimination decisions, Mayo is falling short of its responsibilities.”

Thissen said if it increasingly appears that DMC partnership is not benefitting the larger Minnesota public, legislative changes could be considered to the governance and funding structure of the DMC, including “additional, specific obligations related to access to providers in the Mayo service territory to ensure that the broader Minnesota public interest is protected and served.”

About Sam Wilmes

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

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