Mayo Clinic Faces Antitrust Concerns in Albert Lea

Mayo Clinic’s recent decision to downsize the Albert Lea hospital could face legal opposition.

Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons

ALBERT LEA, Minn. – The controversy over Mayo Clinic Health System’s recent decision to downsize their Albert Lea hospital could soon face legal opposition.

In June, Mayo Clinic announced plans to downsize their Albert Lea hospital, transitioning some of the services to its Austin campus, which is about 25 miles from Albert Lea. The Albert Lea medical center will still offer an emergency room as well as inpatient behavioral health care and outpatient services. However, patients will have to go to the Austin hospital for inpatient care, inpatient surgeries, intensive care, and labor and delivery.

“Both the Albert Lea and Austin campus will continue to offer 95 percent of the services our patients use on a regular basis, including primary and specialty care, pregnancy care, outpatient surgeries and procedures, emergency room care, and services such as lab, radiology and pharmacy,” Mandie Siems, a Mayo Clinic spokeswoman, told the Star Tribune.

Mayo Clinic cites financial losses and a better efficiency as reasons for the move. However, the decision has stirred up local debate with Albert Lea residents concerned about losing a local option for certain health services. Now Freeborn County Attorney David Walker is considering legal action against the health care provider.

According to the Post Bulletin, Walker has been in contact with Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson’s office about concerns over the consolidation efforts, raising potential antitrust concerns in a letter to Swanson. Walker is asking for help from Swanson’s office in investigating whether Mayo Clinic, which purchased the Albert Lea hospital in 1995, offered any contractual promises to maintain a specific set of services in Albert Lea.

Democratic Rep. Tim Walz has also pushed back on Mayo Clinic decision to downsize the Albert Lea hospital, calling the move a “punch in the gut.”

“Mayo’s failure to fully and proactively engage the Albert Lea community on this decision is disappointing,” Walz wrote in a letter to Mayo Clinic President and CEO John H. Noseworthy. “Hospitals — like our schools and small businesses on Main Street — are the lifeblood of rural America and small towns. A partial closure of a hospital, regardless of the logic used to justify it, feels like a punch to the gut.”

Mayo Clinic responded to Walz’s letter, saying the consolidation will protect jobs and continue to offer high quality patient care in both Albert Lea and Austin.

“These are not easy issues. We are confident that, as we work together with the people of Albert Lea, these changes will strengthen the Albert Lea campus and protect jobs,” Mayo Clinic said in a statement. “We are committed to work more closely with the community in facing the challenges of rural health care now and in the future. We are confident that patients will continue to have access to high quality patient care that in both Albert Lea and Austin and that Mayo Clinic Health System will remain an integral contributor to the health and economic vitality in both communities.”

Despite the public pushback, Mayo Clinic is moving forward with the original plans for consolidation. Albert Lea’s intensive care unit is scheduled to move to Austin in October, and inpatient services will likely transition in January 2018. Labor and delivery services are not scheduled to move until late 2019 or early 2020.

Christine Bauman
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