Eminent domain as a way to keep health services?

Published 7:53 pm Friday, March 30, 2018

Freeborn County Administrator Thomas Jensen does not believe eminent domain can be used to stop Mayo Clinic Health System’s transition of most inpatient services from Albert Lea to Austin.

The plan would involve the government taking private property for a public use.

“The taking over of a hospital by a county, when that hospital is functioning and providing services, is not a function of Freeborn County,” Jensen said.

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Freeborn County commissioners were presented with the possibility of using eminent domain last June, a couple of weeks after Mayo announced the transition.

Jensen said he is unsure how the process of eminent domain would start because of the many locations of Mayo Clinic Health System.

“In the Mayo Clinic scenario, Austin and Albert Lea are the same entity,” he said. “They are the same leg of the business. What political subdivision would begin eminent domain? Do you have the city of Austin, the city of Albert Lea, Mower County, Freeborn County?”

“There’s just so many questions that need to be answered, and I don’t even know where you begin to even start identifying the ones where you start answering the questions.”

In December, Quorum Health Resources LLC estimated $60 million to $80 million in investment would be needed to either acquire the hospital from Mayo Clinic or to build a new hospital, as well as invest in a sustainable physician network.

Jensen said the total cost would be “astronomical,” ranging from $100 million to $180 million, and would dramatically increase the county’s payroll costs.

“It would bankrupt Freeborn County, because these citizens would not be able to pay their tax bill,” he said.

Quorum’s report found the new entity would need to capture a “significant market share” aligned with Mayo and operate efficiently to manage costs, as well as navigate challenging times for community hospitals.

According to Quorum, a hospital in Albert Lea would require a capital partner willing to invest “significant resources in order to make this happen.”

“Is it possible under a very specific set of circumstances by the report of the Quorum folks?” Jensen said. “Probably. Identify those very specific circumstances that have to be met.”

Albert Lea City Manager Chad Adams said Monday during a study session the city plans to finalize reviews of proposals in the next one to two weeks from consultants regarding the community’s plan to return health care services to the area. Outreach would then be conducted to businesses and other groups to measure their support for moving forward in the process.

On the possibility of eminent domain, Adams said Friday the city has not decided its approach but is “not actively pursuing it.” The city is obtaining a legal opinion and expects to have a better idea of its approach in the next few weeks. Adams wants the council to be able to review information he has evaluated.

The city is expected to issue a public statement on eminent domain but not necessarily take a public position.

About Sam Wilmes

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

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