County to contribute $35K for hospital finance consultant

Published 8:02 pm Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Three local entities have now agreed to contribute up to $35,000 to hire a health care finance consultant to determine the long-term feasibility of the Albert Lea hospital, as Mayo Clinic Health System plans to transition most inpatient services from the hospital to Austin.   

The Freeborn County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved contributing to the effort. The board joined the Albert Lea City Council and Albert Lea-Save Our Hospital group in committing to funding the hiring of an accountant.

Prior to the board’s vote, Freeborn County Attorney David Walker and Save Our Hospital second provider steering committee chairman Craig Ludtke said Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson advised they hire an accountant to evaluate the situation.

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“I think that it’s very sustainable to follow the recommendation of the attorney general in such matters, and I think the attorney general’s opinion amounts to a legal opinion that it is appropriate and proper for the county to do this legally,” Walker said.

Ludtke requested commissioners pass the resolution and said the accountant will provide an economic development tool. Though a health care accountant has not been hired yet, the accountant will represent the interests of Freeborn County, he said.

Board action comes weeks before Mayo Clinic Health System’s planned transition of most inpatient services begins next month with the transition of the inpatient care unit from Albert Lea to Austin. 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.

Mayo Clinic Health System spokeswoman Mandie Siems said on Tuesday afternoon the hospital system made its decision to transfer most inpatient services after an 18-month process that included research and an exploration of options. The plan is the best option the hospital system has to maintain a majority of services Mayo Clinic Health System provides in Albert Lea and Austin, she said, adding the health system does not plan to leave to Albert Lea.

“We’re here for the long haul,” she said.

Recent financial losses at both Albert Lea and Austin hospitals are only one aspect of the transition, Siems said, who added that a “critical” staffing shortage and its relation to patient risks are the “driving factors” behind the transition.

“We have an obligation to move forward with this plan,” she said.

About Sam Wilmes

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

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