Mayo Clinic facing criticism for not participating in Veterans Choice program

Published 5:25 pm Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Mayo Clinic’s decision not to participate in the Veterans Choice program is drawing backlash locally.

The program — passed in 2014 — expanded the number of options veterans had for care to ensure they could receive timely access to high-quality care.

The program provides inpatient and outpatient specialty care, primary care and mental health care for veterans when the local U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs health care facility cannot provide services due to a lack of available specialists, long wait times or an extraordinary distance to a health care facility.

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Beyond the Yellow Ribbon of Albert Lea Chairman John Severtson, a Vietnam War veteran, said veterans do not understand why the program is not offered at Mayo Clinic. Veterans who could be treated locally have to be taken outside of the community for care, he said, including to a facility in Lake Mills that offers physical therapy.

Severtson wants Mayo Clinic to implement the Veterans Choice program so older veterans who could have a difficult time being taken to a facility outside of the community can be treated locally. He acknowledged the program is not well-organized, “but it’s the only thing we’ve got,” he said. 

District 2 Commissioner Dan Belshan derided the hospital for its decision not to participate in the program.

“According to Mayo Clinic’s latest scheme, our children must be born elsewhere and our veterans must get their health care elsewhere,” he said. “How does this follow Mayo’s mission statement, ‘the needs of the patient come first?’ In my opinion, Mayo is abandoning our communities and our veterans in pursuit of the almighty dollar. They should be thankful that the veterans didn’t abandon their missions when called upon to serve.”

Kathleen Harrington, division chairwoman for government relations at Mayo Clinic, said the hospital does care for veterans, stating more than 12,000 veteran visits took place at Mayo hospitals in southeast Minnesota in 2016 alone, while more than 400,000 visits from veterans have taken place at all of the hospital system’s facilities.

“Representing Mayo does not care for veterans is completely false,” she said.

Few hospitals participate in the Veterans Choice program, said Harrington, who stated the program — instituted because the VA was not able to provide access to veterans as quickly as requested — would put a substantial administrative burden on the hospital that would result in Mayo needing to add more staff than the number of veterans it would serve under the program.

Harrington said Mayo Clinic is committed to working with 1st District Congressman Tim Walz and Congress and Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin to improve the Veterans Choice program and ensure veterans are taken care of in the best possible way.

Mayo Clinic cares for veterans under the Tricare program, a health care program of the United States Department of Defense’s military health system, Harrington said.

The program mainly takes care of active and retired veterans — not older veterans, according to the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon of Albert Lea organization.

District 5 Commissioner Mike Lee said Mayo’s decision not to participate in the program is “very disheartening.”

Veterans have served the country so Mayo can operate its business, said Lee, who stated he wants Mayo Clinic to start participating in the program. Lee’s grandfather and father both served in the military.

District 4 Commissioner Chris Shoff said he has heard it takes four to six weeks for hospitals to get paid for serving veterans through the program. He discussed sacrifices veterans made during their services to the country.

“For what they’ve gone through, why wouldn’t you want to treat them?” he said.

About Sam Wilmes

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

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