‘Albert Lea is one that never gives up’

Published 10:03 am Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Coalition trustees talk about plans to recruit new health care provider

Albert Lea Healthcare Coalition leaders reassured community members Tuesday evening they are optimistic about finding a new health care provider to come to the city but need the community to rally together again.

The coalition hosted a meeting at Wedgewood Cove Golf Club to update people about the departure of MercyOne North Iowa from Albert Lea at the end of the year and the steps the coalition is taking to move forward.

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MercyOne cited the global pandemic, challenges in workforce recruitment and differences in regulations in Minnesota compared to Iowa as its reasons for leaving in its announcement.

Coalition President Brad Arends said whether it is partnering with MercyOne or any other provider, the coalition continues to have the same mission of providing high quality, affordable health care to the citizens of Albert Lea and the surrounding communities.

“We’re not starting from zero,” Arends said. “We’re far from zero.”

He said the nonprofit Albert Lea Health Care Coalition has many assets it did not have when it recruited MercyOne initially to town, including the 64,000-square-foot former Herberger’s building, with over 15,000 finished square feet, as well as $520,000 in the bank, a five-stage business plan and over 5,100 patients who left their old providers to be seen at the clinic.

It also has three doctors who live in Albert Lea and who want to work at the clinic. He noted the specialist doctors through Mason City Clinic have also voiced their commitment to stay in the community.

Representatives from Hearing & Associates and Big Stone Therapies also voiced at the meeting that they plan to stay in their current locations in the John and Susan Morrison Medical Plaza at the building.

Arends said if the coalition hadn’t had this setback, it would have been raising money for a 2,800-square-foot urgent care, as it had passed 5,000 patients. Right now in the community, there is a same-day clinic through Mayo Clinic Health System, but not an urgent care, he said. If you want to be seen urgently, people have to go to the emergency room.

Under the business plan, an urgent care would have been followed by full-panel imagery and eventually outpatient surgery. After that, it could move toward a birthing center.

He said he is especially interested in getting the urgent care built.

“That’s our goal to find those people that believe in this town and believe in all of you,” Arends said.

He noted coalition trustees interviewed a firm earlier in the day that had talked about how important an urgent care would be to the community.

Arends said the coalition planned to ask MercyOne for an extension for its closure, as it would be difficult to have another system in place to step in and take over the clinic in such a short time frame. He noted it also takes three to four months for doctors to be certified.

Some people in the audience expressed concerns about emergency care, ambulances and about where they would have to be taken in the event of an emergency. An employer also talked about having somewhere for its 200 employees to go for mammograms. Currently, the MercyOne clinic in Albert Lea did not provide mammograms, and people would have to travel to Mason City for that service.

“If there was ever a need for the Albert Lea Health Care Coalition, it is now. …” Arends said. “We just need to find a new partner.”

The Healthcare Coalition announced Thursday it has postponed its gala planned for Oct. 7 at the John & Susan Morrison Medical Plaza and Northbridge Mall.

A press release from the coalition stated the organization is receiving multiple calls from other health care entities, many who responded to their request for proposal years ago.
“The Albert Lea Healthcare Coaliton is in a good position to replace the MercyOne clinic as they own the building,” the release said. “Over 5,000 patients have sought care at this clinic. The coalition is pressing forward to meet the needs of this community and surrounding areas. The ALHC will be hosting community meetings once they have any updates for the public.”
The Ball in the Mall will be rescheduled as a community celebration, once the new provider is secured.

Arends’ father, Al Arends, encouraged people to give to the cause and talked about the generosity of the Albert Lea community.

“Albert Lea is one that never gives up,” he said.