Save Our Hospital group prepares to take fight to Capitol

Published 9:37 pm Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Albert Lea-Save Our Hospital organization is employing a multi-faceted approach to keep a full-service, acute-care hospital in Albert Lea, despite Mayo Clinic Health System beginning its planned transition of most inpatient services to Austin.

Save Our Hospital member Jay Armstrong said during a meeting Sunday night that because there are a lot of legislators who are up for re-election next year, it is a good time for the organization to discuss changing state laws to allow for rural communities to have more of a say in health care services.

He discussed the possibility of members of the organization traveling to the state Capitol next year, where individuals would share stories of how the transition is affecting them, as well as their hopes of taking back a full-service, acute-care hospital in Albert Lea.

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Discussion is continuing even after the intensive care unit transitioned to Austin, the first move in the process.

A Save Our Hospital steering committee meeting is planned Saturday to discuss the path the organization will take as the transition unfolds. Parts of the plan, however, are already in place.

Members meet each Wednesday at New Denmark Park, and weekly Sunday night meetings are still taking place at the American Legion in Albert Lea.

Members of Save Our Hospital are discussing attending DFL and Republican gubernatorial debates this month in Rochester. The DFL event is scheduled from 7 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, and the GOP debate is scheduled from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 23. Both events are expected to focus on health care and take place at the Heintz Center Commons of Rochester Community and Technical College, 1926 Collegeview Road.

Save Our Hospital is continuing outreach to filmmaker Ken Burns about a possible documentary on the subject, as well as contacting U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, DFL-Minnesota, to invite her to attend meetings.

“Let’s contact her and let’s invite her to be a part of our group here and work with us,” said Jennifer Vogt-Erickson of the Save Our Hospital organization during Sunday night’s meeting.

District 55B Rep. Tony Albright, R-Prior Lake, expressed support during the meeting for addressing the transition during next year’s legislative session.

“Your issue rises, I think, to the point where we should take it under consideration from a committee level when we meet starting next February,” he said.

Rural areas still should have access to quality health care, said Albright, chairman of Health and Human Services finance and reforms committees, who encouraged the Save Our Hospital organization to continue its efforts. He said he would welcome a visit from the group.

Albright’s comments came roughly one week after former House Minority Leader and candidate for governor Paul Thissen said he was open to re-writing language regarding the Destination Medical Center project in Rochester, as well as making it easier for communities to bring in a health care provider.

The organization is discussing forming a health care consortium of towns in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa, an association the organization said would wrestle back control of health care services to local communities.

The city of Albert Lea last week signed a maximum $75,000 contract with Quorum Health Resources LLC. The cost is evenly split between the city, Freeborn County and Save Our Hospital.

The assessment — expected to take 45 to 60 days — will include analysis of the financial and operational performance of the Albert Lea hospital, analysis of market conditions for sustainability and future options.

Save Our Hospital co-chairperson Mariah Lynne said on Tuesday a finding that the hospital can be profitable could help lure one of the three to four hospital providers and three to four clinic providers that have expressed interest in providing health care services in Albert Lea to locate to the community.

“My expectation is yes, it is possible to have a full-service, acute-care hospital in Albert Lea that is profitable,” said Lynne, adding the options the organization is pursuing came after Save Our Hospital unsuccessfully attempted to find a solution to the planned transition with Mayo Clinic Health System.

Local organizing chairwoman Angie Hanson said organizers must remain committed to return the Albert Lea hospital to a full-service, acute-care facility.

“Whatever course we choose, or courses that we choose, we all need to remain committed,” she said. “And I believe if we remain committed, that we will get our hospital back.”

Mayo Clinic Health System declined to comment for the story.

About Sam Wilmes

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

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