Billboards challenge Mayo’s care approach

Published 8:00 pm Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Albert Lea-Save Our Hospital organization has three billboards in place in the area challenging Mayo Clinic Health System’s approach to rural health care.

A billboard placed in the last week on Interstate 35 near the Clarks Grove exit that states, “The Mayo way does not work for rural health care” is meant to reach travelers who do not live in Albert Lea but who are still affected by the transition, said Jennifer Vogt-Erickson of the Save Our Hospital organization. She said the billboards call attention to higher insurance rates in the region and what she said is the hospital’s monopolistic approach to rural health care.

The billboard refers to “Mayo’s higher cost structure and also the way it is dismantling rural health care in favor of a hub-and-spoke system,” Vogt-Erickson said in an email Monday.

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The hub-and-spoke system  refers to patients being stabilized locally, then taken to a central hospital, she said.

“In Albert Lea’s case, Rochester is the hub,” Vogt-Erickson said. “For Fairmont, the hub is Mayo’s hospital in Mankato.”

Vogt-Erickson said billboards on Civic Center Drive and Broadway Avenue in Rochester both state, “Put patients first. Save our hospital in Albert Lea.” They were installed in late August, and the organization paid for the billboards to be in place for another month.

The signs in Rochester are meant to take the message of the Save Our Hospital organization to Mayo’s main location, said Vogt-Erickson, who emphasized though she supports Mayo’s approach to health care in Rochester, she believes the hospital system is not treating rural patients well.

The billboards come as the hospital system continues with its planned transition of most inpatient services to Austin. The intensive care unit has moved to Austin, and inpatient surgeries are slated to move to Austin in January 2018. 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.

Despite the hospital system not showing any sign it will delay the plan, local entities continue to evaluate the long-term feasibility of maintaining a full-service, acute-care hospital in Albert Lea.

The city of Albert Lea signed a contract on Monday with a national health care consulting firm to evaluate the long-term feasibility of the hospital.

The maximum $75,000 contract with Quorum Health Resources LLC is evenly split between the city, Freeborn County and Save Our Hospital organization.

In the email, Vogt-Erickson said the billboards reflect lost trust with the health system.

“Mayo costs substantially more money than other systems, it strategically and unscrupulously blocked our community’s former input in major decisions and now it’s providing fewer and fewer vital services,” she said. “We want a health system that is committed to providing a traditional, full-service community hospital in Albert Lea, not just an ER and a behavioral health hospital.”

About Sam Wilmes

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

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