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Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea.

ST. PAUL — Union nurses at Mayo Clinic Health System, Austin and Albert Lea ratified a plan Thursday for dealing with the effects of Mayo's decision to move most inpatient services in Albert Lea to Austin.

Following several days of negotiations, a majority of nurses from both hospitals voted to accept Mayo's offer to address such issues as patient care training for nurses who move to a new unit, seniority, retention and severance for nurses whose jobs are affected by the decision.

"We now have a process that Mayo must follow when units are closed and nurses are forced to change jobs," Minnesota Nurses Association Austin Chairwoman Kathryn Martin said.

"Nurses hope to minimize the impact on patients and the care they receive when any changes are imposed," said MNA Albert Lea Chairwoman Kathy Lehman. "We continue to work with the Save Our Hospital group to fight Mayo's plan to devastate communities in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa that will no longer have a full-service hospital in Albert Lea. Nurses needed to have some assurances from Mayo on how changes in their jobs will be handled."

It's the second such contract vote in as many months as Mayo plans to move most inpatient services from Albert Lea to Austin. The first vote was to bring Albert Lea salaries in line with those in Austin.

On Thursday, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith requested Mayo delay the upcoming consolidation that forced Mayo to the negotiating table with MNA. However, Mayo has rejected that request while planning to move forward with shifting services during the next 18 months, starting with the ICU on Oct. 1.

Mayo said nurses might get shifted between sites, but total employment numbers aren't expected to fluctuate much, if at all.

"As we have shared with the union and our staff, our goal has always been to make these transitions as smooth as possible," Mayo spokeswoman Ginger Plumbo said via email. "We will continue to move forward with staffing plans for the future state on both campuses with the best interest of our employees and patients in mind.

"Our focus is on preserving the health care services that our patients use most often in their local communities, while making the best use of our resources to deliver hospital services in a way that keeps care viable and as close to home as possible."

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