Albert Lea hospital announcement

Save our Hospital group at Albert Lea announcement (Jeff Kiger/jkiger@postbulletin.com)

ALBERT LEA — The largest health care system in Iowa has agreed to open a primary care clinic in Albert Lea, offering an alternative to Mayo Clinic, which has recently reduced services in the city.

MercyOne North Iowa signed an agreement with the Albert Lea Healthcare Coalition on Thursday to launch a primary care clinic in the city, possibly as soon as summer 2020. MercyOne, formerly known as Mercy Health Network, is a nonprofit system that operates eight medical centers in Iowa and has annual revenues of more than $2.5 billion.

Save Our Healthcare and the Albert Lea Healthcare Coalition were formed in the wake of Mayo Clinic's decision to consolidate services between its Austin and Albert Lea campuses due to financial losses, concerns over physician retention and training, and declining inpatient volumes. Mayo's plan, announced in 2017, included shifting Albert Lea’s Intensive Care Unit services, in-patient surgeries and childbirth services to Austin. 

The City of Albert Lea and the citizen groups negotiated with Mayo Clinic in an attempt to retain those services. When Mayo Clinic turned them down, the coalition began recruiting another health care provider into the city. MercyOne won't immediately replace the services Mayo cut in Albert Lea, but organizers still called it a "great fit"

"It's truly a partnership," said Brad Arends, the Save Our Healthcare president and chairman of the Albert Lea Healthcare Coalition. He told the crowd of Save Our Healthcare supporters on Thursday at the Albert Lea American Legion that during opening talks "they offered us more than we asked for."

He described the process of bringing in a new health care provider as being about "the three Rs" — regaining health care services, regaining control and reducing the cost of health care.

“It’s been an ordeal,” Arends said as he acknowledged the large group of supporters wearing “Save Our Healthcare” hats and T-shirts. “You are the ones who deserve the credit.”

MercyOne plans to move into Albert Lea in phases, starting with a primary care clinic with a specialty clinic offering lab and X-ray services as well as extended hours for urgent care, including weekends. Future phases are expected to include adding specialists, an imaging center and an ambulatory surgery center.

The first phase is expected to be the construction of a 10,500-square-foot complex for an estimated cost of $2 million, MercyOne North Iowa president Rod Schlader said. The goal is to open for care by summer 2020.

The location of the clinic has not been locked down yet, Arends said.

When asked why MercyOne is interested in providing services in Albert Lea after Mayo Clinic said it was forced to reduce its offerings due to economic and staffing issues, Schlader said, "We think there are needs in the community for primary care."

When asked if MercyOne is concerned about staffing, which Mayo Clinic has said is a serious problem, Schlader said, “No fear whatsoever … though it will be a challenge. We are optimistic.”

There are thresholds for patient numbers to trigger moving on to the next phase of MercyOne's expansion, Schlader. said. He estimated it will take about three to five years to get to the fifth phase, which will include an outpatient surgical center with about 85 employees.

Arends told the crowd that the health care coalition has been talking to Albert Lea’s top employers and encouraging them to refer their employees to MercyOne over “the current provider,” Mayo Clinic.

Mayo Clinic still offers a variety of services in Albert Lea, including a same-day clinic, primary care, general surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, cardiology, sports medicine, physical rehabilitation, laboratory services and others.

“Mayo Clinic Health System is proud to be a longstanding health care partner to the residents of Albert Lea, Austin and surrounding communities," reads a prepared statement from Mayo Clinic. "We continue to offer highly valued quality of care with a wide range of services — including full clinic services, robust emergency departments, outpatient surgeries and pregnancy care before and after delivery on each campus."

MercyOne operates eight Iowa medical centers in Clinton, Des Moines, Dubuque, Mason City, Sioux City, and Waterloo/Cedar Falls, plus seven community hospitals. MercyOne employs more than 20,000 people.

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