City, Mayo Clinic enter into agreement for dialogue

Published 1:59 pm Friday, October 13, 2017

Mayo Clinic and the city of Albert Lea have agreed to enter facilitated dialogue to discuss the hospital system’s planned transition of most inpatient services to Austin.

In a press release announcing the decision, U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, DFL-Minnesota, said retired judge and former state Rep. David Minge will aim to bridge the communication gap between the two entities while adhering to agreed parameters. Walz facilitated communication between the two entities to enter the discussion.

“This process offers a potential path forward in understanding the drivers behind Mayo Clinic’s decision, the challenges facing rural health care and, most importantly, defining solutions to work together on the future of health care in this community,” Walz said.

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Albert Lea and Mayo Clinic are expected to split the cost of services for the discussion, and the two entities plan to jointly decide on the scope of dialogue, issues to be covered, timeline, budget and other items regarding the plan to create conditions for “productive, problem-solving discussions,” the press release stated.

In a joint statement, the city and Mayo Clinic said they “have a responsibility to the communities we serve to engage in constructive communication going forward. Facilitated dialogue is a very positive step in meeting our shared goal of providing quality health care, and we are dedicated to the hard work ahead of us. We thank Rep. Walz for his service to his constituents and for working to bring us to the discussion table.”

The agreement comes after the first part of Mayo’s planned transition of most inpatient services to Austin began with the moving of the intensive care unit. Inpatient surgeries are expected to move to Austin in January, and the behavioral health center will move from Austin to Albert Lea in 2019. Labor and delivery services will be last to relocate to Austin in late 2019 or early 2020.

Mayo Clinic chairwoman of government relations Kathleen Harrington said the hospital is grateful for the work of Walz and other elected officials on behalf of Albert Lea and the future of rural health care.

“We look forward to participating in this dialogue with the city and county leaders and continuing our efforts with all our federal and state elected leaders,” Harrington said.

Despite calls to delay the transition from state and federal lawmakers, local entities and members of the public, Mayo Clinic has given no indication it will delay the plan.

A date for the first meeting has not been set, said Albert Lea City Manager Chad Adams, adding he wants a meeting to take place by the end of this month.

Adams does not expect the recent transition of the intensive care unit to be discussed, but the city will try to have its questions answered.

Adams called it “responsible” for the city to have conversations with Mayo regarding the transition, based on the hospital system being the community’s largest employer and said it is “too soon” to tell if Mayo Clinic will be open to delaying the rest of the transition.

Harrington said the hospital will not reconsider its decision to transition most inpatient services.

“We will not be revisiting decisions,” said Harrington, adding the hospital plans to talk about how it will continue to provide high-quality care to Albert Lea.

Employment levels are expected to remain similar at the Albert Lea hospital, Harrington said.

Adams expects to discuss mitigating the impacts the transition will have on Albert Lea and said the city is “very pleased” to have the chance to talk to the hospital system about the transition.

Walz said he was pleased the two entities agreed to participate.

“I believe these actions and their commitment to a facilitated dialogue is in the best interest of my constituents and moves the ball forward to what I believe will be constructive communication,” he said.

Walz thanked Minge for his role in the planned discussion.

“I stand ready to continue assisting both parties as they move forward in serving their communities, and remain prepared to do whatever I can at the federal level to be a partner in dealing with the many challenges facing rural health care,” Walz said.

Minge said in the press release he was pleased the city and the hospital system will meet.

“Hopefully their discussions will help build a framework for a productive relationship between the community and Mayo,” he said.

In a statement following the announcement, Albert Lea-Save Our Hospital Co-Chairwoman Mariah Lynne said the organization believes the fate of the transition rests with Mayo Clinic CEO John Noseworthy and Mayo Chief Administrative Officer and Vice President Jeff Bolton.

“We understand that our city manager has an obligation to exhaust all avenues of cooperation with Mayo, and we support the city in their commitment to resolve this critical situation by all means possible, including facilitated dialogue between the city of Albert Lea and Mayo Clinic Health System’s regional personnel,” Lynne said.

Lynne extended an invitation for Mayo decision-makers to meet with area patients and citizens.

“We continue to encourage Dr. Noseworthy to visit Albert Lea and address his patients in an open forum setting, where he will hear first-hand the need for a full-service, acute-care hospital,” she said.

About Sam Wilmes

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

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