AUSTIN — Citing staffing shortages, rising costs and declining reimbursements, Mayo Clinic Health System announced Monday it is moving most of its inpatient services from its Albert Lea campus to its Austin campus.

Patients will soon have to travel to Austin for major surgeries requiring hospitalization, overnight hospitalization, Intensive Care Unit stays, and for childbirth.

"We think that as time moves forward, that sets us up to remain viable in our communities, to offer care within 30 miles of most of our patients, to attract physicians and nurses that we need to do that kind of work, and sets us up to be part of health care and part of Mayo Clinic as we move forward," said Dr. Mark Ciota, CEO of Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea and Austin.

Mayo Health System leaders briefed the media on the plan at a Tuesday morning news conference at the Albert Lea campus. Ciota said 95 percent of the services provided will remain in place at both campuses. Those services include emergency room, primary care, specialty care, outpatient surgeries and procedures, laboratory, radiology and pharmacy.

Mayo officials said they settled on the Austin campus because it had the best footprint to accommodate growth. The health system plans to invest approximately $25 million as part of the consolidation, with the bulk of those dollars being spent in Austin as part of the expansion. The process to consolidate the facilities will begin this fall, with the moving of Albert Lea's Intensive Care Unit to Austin by October. The last thing to move will be labor and delivery services, which will be centralized in Austin by late 2019 or early 2020.

Asked about potential layoffs, Ciota said there are approximately 1,000 employees at each campus. He said he expects there to remain a total of 2,000 employees between both campuses. However, about 30 to 50 jobs will shift to the Austin campus. He could not guarantee there would be no layoffs as part of the move.

About 20 members of the Minnesota Nurses Association showed up for the press conference but were kept out of the room and told it was for media only. Members blasted Mayo's decision, saying they are concerned about the impact on patients and employees.

'Quite shocking'

MNA Albert Lea spokesperson Kathy Lehman said nurses learned of the consolidation plan on Monday.

"It was quite shocking when we learned the scope of this," she said. "This is huge when you are looking at (moving) every inpatient service that has been provided here since the inception of the hospital."

Albert Lea Mayor Vern Rasmussen Jr. said he is dismayed by Mayo's decision. The health-care facility is the largest employer in Albert Lea, which has a population of less than 18,000.

"We are greatly disappointed in this decision. I don't think there's any way that it doesn't have an effect on our community. And as a community, we're going to have to look at our options and see what those are," he said.

Rasmussen said he was informed about the consolidation a week ago. He said he has not been told whether there will be layoffs. He also works at the Albert Lea medical facility as a physical therapist.

Austin Mayor Tom Stiehm did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

According to U.S News and World Report, 73 physicians and 155 nurses work at the Albert Lea campus. It has 77 licensed hospital beds, according to a Mayo Clinic spokeswoman. A total of 953 people work at the Austin campus, according to the Development Corporation of Austin. That makes the heath care facility that city's third-largest employer. U.S. The Austin hospital has 82 beds.

A yearlong analysis

The move to consolidate campuses comes after a yearlong analysis by medical center staff of the health care services provided on both campuses. It found that the Austin campus made the most sense to expand because there is room to add additional hospital and ICU space.

"I know for the patients in Albert Lea it seems like a loss at this point," Ciota said. "But our goal is now to build something so great in the future that that we get passed that."

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