Lieutenant Governor Smith Visits Albert Lea, Calls For Pause to Mayo Clinic Consolidation

August 31, 2017 11:04 PM

(ABC 6 News) -- Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith said Thursday she would like to see a pause of a planned consolidation of services between Mayo Clinic Health System's Albert Lea and Austin hospitals until a better solution is found.

Smith's comments came after she met with leaders from Albert Lea and Freeborn County in the city Thursday afternoon. Members of the Save Our Hospital group, as well as Rep. Peggy Bennett and Sen. Dan Sparks, also attended the meeting.


"We had a very productive and candid conversation about the challenges we’re facing in Albert Lea," she said.

Smith also met with leaders from the Albert Lea hospital Thursday afternoon, prompting Mayo to thank her for visiting too, "see firsthand the challenges that we – like every other rural health provider – are facing and working hard to solve."

Since the consolidation plans were announced in June, numerous state, county and city leaders and organizations have shared their concerns. Smith and Governor Mark Dayton weighed in last week, issuing a statement saying they had "serious concerns" about the move.

Mayo officials have said the move is designed to combat declining demand and staffing shortages plaguing rural health systems nationwide.

Members of the Save Our Hospital group have demanded Mayo either give up the hospital or maintain its services.

"Their plans are not necessarily in the best interest of communities like Albert Lea," the group's co-chair Brad Arends said Thursday. "You are taking revenue, you are taking jobs, and you are taking that from Albert Lea and you are sending that ultimately to Rochester."

Mayo Responds to Attorney General's Information Request 

Last week, Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson met with local officials to learn more about the issue. Days prior, her office had sent Mayo a letter asking for additional details regarding the plans.

Wednesday, Mayo responded to that letter with a 12-page document outlining their decision-making process. A major factor, Mayo said, is declining demand for inpatient services. 

In 2013, an average of 18 patients each day required inpatient care in Albert Lea, meaning that on an average day, three-quarters of the beds were unused, Mayo said. By 2016, that number had fallen to 16. Austin fared even worse; an average of 33 patients daily in 2013 utilized inpatient services, but by 2016 that number was only 19.

Currently, between the two hospitals only around one-third of the inpatient beds are used in a given day, Mayo said in the letter. Each hospital also only sees an average of one birth per day.

Read the full letter here.

Consolidation Won't Affect Destination Medical Center Funding

Despite Mayo's plans to move forward with the consolidation, Smith said it won't change the multi-billion-dollar Destination Medical Center partnership taking place in Rochester.

"The payments don’t go to Mayo Clinic. They go to building out the public infrastructure in the city of Rochester. How that happens is prescribed by law. So to suggest that I could somehow change that because some personal opinion the Governor or I have is simply not true," she said.

Smith, who chairs the Destination Medical Center Corporation, the public-private partnership supporting the establishment of Rochester as a premier destination for medical care, did say that community relations with Mayo are important moving forward.

"They need to appreciate that there is going to be much more attention focused on the kind of community relationships they have as a result of this," she said.

Part of those relations comes from Mayo officials considering community input before making large-scale changes, not just communicating them afterward.

"What I do know is they need to do a much better job consulting the community before they make big decisions that affect the economy and the heart and soul of communities like Albert Lea," she said.


Logan Reigstad

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