- Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson sent a letter to Mayo Clinic President and CEO John Noseworthy, asking him to put consolidation plans for its Albert Lea, Minn., hospital on hold pending a financial review by local groups opposed to the decision, the Post-Bulletin reports. The Rochester, Minn.-based health system announced in June that it was consolidating services at the Albert Lea facility with one 25 miles away in Austin, Minn.
- The previously unreported letter, sent Sept. 11, says the health system’s plans have caused “a great deal of consternation” within Freeborn County, which includes the city of Albert Lea, and requests time to complete a review of its economic viability. The review is expected to take at least three months and cost more than $100,00.
- In a Sept. 18 response, Noseworthy “respectfully declined,” saying that while unpopular, the consolidation “will serve the best interests of our patients.”
Mayo Clinic has cited staff shortages, rising costs and falling reimbursement as the reasons for consolidation. These issues are plaguing health systems across the country, and consolidation is often seen as a solution. With that, however, can come concerns about rural communities being shortchanged, as well as antitrust allegations.
Mayo has dealt with all of that since the consolidation plan was announced in June, including stiff opposition from Albert Lee resident and officials who say they were blindsided. The system has pushed back against claims the plan is aimed at achieving short-term profits. A few local officials have said they are investigating potential antitrust violations in the consolidation, but nothing specific has emerged from that.
The consolidation plan is also a response to challenges rural hospitals in particular face. They often have difficulty recruiting physicians, and see high rates of people who are uninsured or on Medicaid or Medicare. The National Rural Health Association has said several hundred rural hospital facilities are at risk of closure.
Under the plan, the Austin hospital will handle inpatient services and offer outpatient care, while the Albert Lea facility will provide primary and specialty care, emergency care, behavioral health, pharmacy and other services. Mayo Clinic officials maintain that 95% of services at the two facilities are outpatient.
Some Minnesota lawmakers have also accused Mayo of misleading them on a $585 million public funding initiative to support the system’s Destination Medical Center, a mixed-use development project planned near Mayo headquarters in downtown Rochester. They suggest the project is pulling resources from elsewhere in the organization, prompting the need to consolidate.
In a recent column in the Post-Bulletin, Annie Sadosty, regional vice president for Mayo’s southeast Minnesota region, said the consolidation is part of a long-range plan to improve rural health. She said a multidisciplinary team from the two facilities studied the situation for more than 18 months before arriving at the consolidation plan.