Continuing the fight for a full-service hospital

Published 7:48 pm Thursday, March 22, 2018

Save Our Hospital group heads to the Capitol

ST. PAUL — Approximately 50 Save Our Hospital members requested legislators pass legislation to make it easier for health care providers to locate to rural communities Thursday at the Capitol.

The members met with state legislators in groups to request they increase funding for medical school loan forgiveness for physicians who practice in rural areas, enact tax relief for health care providers to locate to rural communities and waive the moratorium on hospital beds to help spur development.

The visit came approximately nine months after Mayo Clinic Health System announced its plan to transition most inpatient services from Albert Lea to Austin.

Joel Erickson of the Save Our Hospital organization said the finding of Quorum Health Resources that a full-service hospital could be feasible in Albert Lea under the right conditions contradicts Mayo’s statements.

Save Our Hospital member Dave Mullenbach discusses his concerns with Mayo Clinic Health System’s decision to transfer most inpatient services to Austin on Thursday at the Capitol. – Sam Wilmes/Albert Lea Tribune

District 22B Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, said based on his representation of a rural district, he knows rural access to critical services is needed.

“Your struggles, your issues, you’re not alone in them,” he said.

Hamilton, chairman of the Health and Human Services Finance Committee, committed to supporting legislation to increase rural access to health care and discussed the difficulty he has faced as he has battled multiple sclerosis.

District 12A Rep. Jeff Backer, R-Browns Valley, said Save Our Hospital was “preaching to the choir,” by discussing their concerns over losing most inpatient services.

Backer, vice chairman of the Health and Human Services Finance Committee, committed to following District 27A Rep. Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, to pass legislation to ensure greater rural access to health care services.

Bennett, Backer and Hamilton are co-authors on legislation that would require a review if a hospital decides to discontinue “essential health services” in a rural area. Bennett is authoring legislation that would allow for the use of state infrastructure aid to restore lost health care services.

Save Our Hospital member Joel Erickson meets with District 8B Rep. Mary Franson Thursday at the Capitol. – Sam Wilmes/Albert Lea Tribune

District 55A Rep. Bob Loonan, R-Shakopee, also expressed support for the group.

“I’m with you,” he said. “I’m on your side. I just don’t have the hat and the shirt.”

Bennett also met with Save Our Hospital members Thursday.

“Throughout the process of the hospital restructuring, I’ve worked closely with Save Our Hospital to ensure our residents have access to the care they need in our area,” she said in a press release. “Thank you to all of the advocates who came to St. Paul (Thursday) to share the importance of keeping avenues to health care access in rural Minnesota.”

After the meetings, Save Our Hospital member Mike Levisen said they went “very well.”

“Every legislator we met with was very much in favor of our efforts,” he said. “Beyond that, we’re very happy.”

Levisen said based on the 55,000 to 60,000 people in the area who depend on the hospital, “it’s hard to be believe that they are taking that away from us.”

He said having a full-service hospital is needed for the community to create jobs.

Fellow Save Our Hospital member Rebecca Bluhm said legislation to help the community have an acute-care hospital needs to be passed soon.

“In general, to provide some type of funding and support to rural health care so we can continue to operate,” she said, adding it is especially important for the region’s elderly and pregnant populations.

“It just makes it difficult, and there is no reason why we can’t support a full-service hospital,” Bluhm said. “That’s our goal.”

Save Our Hospital member Jean Eaton visited with District 26 Sen. Carla Nelson, District 27 Sen. Dan Sparks and District 15 Sen. Andrew Mathews.

“Everyone is giving off a very positive vibe,” Eaton said.

“It was well worth the effort to come here today and represent all the people in Freeborn County, Worth County and Winnebago County, and we’re continuing to fight for our opportunity to have a full-service, acute-care hospital, whether it’s a second provider or not.”

District 12A Rep. Jeff Backer, R-Browns Valley, meets with Save Our Hospital members Thursday at the Capitol. – Sam Wilmes/Albert Lea Tribune

About Sam Wilmes

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

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