State, Local Leaders Discuss Mayo Clinic Albert Lea Consolidation

August 21, 2017 07:18 PM

(ABC 6 News) -- City, county and state officials met in Albert Lea Monday to talk about the Mayo Clinic Health System's decision to consolidate several services from its Albert Lea hospital to Austin.

Attorney General Lori Swanson, Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger and Minnesota Human Services Deputy Commissioner Chuck Johnson attended the meeting with local officials to learn more about how the consolidation was announced and talked about the community's options to keep those units, including the intensive care unit and birthing center, in Albert Lea.


The meeting comes several days after Swanson's office sent Mayo officials a letter asking for more detailed information about the planned consolidation, including specific financial information about the system's operations.

Swanson said she walked away from the meeting feeling as if Mayo could have done more to engage the community earlier in the process.

"I would certainly like to see that Mayo Clinic engage in a discussion with the community," she said. "I think one thing that is pretty clear is that this was sprung upon the community without a lot of advance notice, or an advance preparation, and people in the community indicated a surprise by the announcement."

Monday, Mayo officials said they have formed a community stakeholder panel to get more input from the public about the consolidation.

Communication is something Dr. Mark Ciota, the CEO of Mayo Clinic Health System Austin/Albert Lea, said could have been improved earlier, though explaining Mayo's position earlier could have increased concerns among employees and the community prematurely.

"We certainly don't want to get to the point where one community or the other has nothing health care wise, and we think  this is a way to make both health care communities grow and improve, and keep as much as we can within that 30 to 60 mile driving distance," he said.

Also Monday, Mayo officials announced a multi-million-dollar investment in the Albert Lea facility, including $2.75 million for a new cooling system, $720,000 for the cancer center and a $600,000 CT scanner.

A spokesperson for local grassroots organization Save Our Hospital questioned the benefit of the investment, as well as its timing.

"They should be investing that money anyway, and I think they're pulling this out right now because they're concerned about all of the negative publicity they're getting because of the Attorney General's visit at this point.," Jennifer Vogt-Erickson said. "They talked about [spending] $2.75 million on a cooling facility, I mean it's probably important yes, but is that more important than having an ICU here?"

Gov. Mark Dayton and Lt. Gov. Tina Smith issued a joint statement prior to the meeting, expressing "serious concerns" about the consolidation plans.

“Mayo Clinic owes it to the Albert Lea community, and any community it serves, to engage the public in an open discussion about the impact of its business decisions on people," the statement read. "Minnesotans in Albert Lea rely on Mayo Clinic for essential care and services, and they deserve an open discussion, especially when a decision like this affects so many.”


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