ALBERT LEA, Minn. – Freeborn County and mayo Clinic Health System representatives are still not seeing eye-to-eye on why services are being consolidated between Albert Lea and Austin.
At a public meeting on Tuesday, Mayo representatives updated the board on the project. They told the board they’re working on getting observation hospital beds in Albert Lea. They also are working with the county on opening a mental health care center.
But county commissioners and citizens who came to the public meeting are still unsatisfied with answers surrounding the labor and delivery and nursery services moving to Austin in 2020.
“I just wish somebody would be honest and tell me why this decision was made,” Glen Mathiason, 1st District Commissioner, said. I got my feelings on why it was made. But that's the way I feel about it, I had to say it. Because it really hurts this community.”
Mathiason said for his constituents on the western side of Albert Lea, driving to Austin to deliver a baby, could be about 55 miles of travel.
Mayo representatives said one birthing center is more reasonable for services to continue in the future. They said recruiting and retaining physicians in the area is difficult. According to them, it takes about three years to recruit one OBGYN.
“A new graduate from an OB wants to be busier. They want to maintain their skills and see complex cases as well,” Dr. Sumit Bharga said.
“I don't buy that,” Dan Belshan, 2nd District Commissioner said. “If they don't want to deliver babies here maybe we'll get someone who will from a different hospital.”
The group Save our Healthcare also weighed in on the conversation. The group, formerly known as Save Our Hospital, spearheaded the effort to keep all of Mayo’s services in Albert Lea. SOH is now focused on restoring services, reducing healthcare costs, and taking back control of healthcare in the region.
Brad Arends is the chair of SOH and thanked the commission for hosting the public meeting. He also encouraged them to consider healthcare costs when talking to Mayo, in addition to access to services.
“We have the highest health insurance rates in the state of Minnesota,” Arends said. “And it's only because of one reason. It's not because we're less healthy. It's because we pay more.”
After the meeting Arends told KIMT the meeting went as he expected, saying no new information was offered.
In a statement following the meeting, Mayo representatives sent KIMT this statement:
“We thank the county commissioners for the opportunity to speak with them today. We look forward to ongoing discussions with the county, city and community groups about the future of health care for residents of Albert Lea, Austin and surrounding counties in Minnesota and northern Iowa.”
To learn more on what services can be found at each campus, updated information can be found here.