ALBERT LEA — Mayo Clinic is moving up by several months the delivery date of its controversial plan to end childbirth services in Albert Lea and shift those services to Austin by the end of October instead of the previous deadline of 2020.

Mayo Clinic announced Thursday morning that labor and deliveries will be moved to the Austin campus on Oct. 30.

A press release quoted Mayo Clinic Health System's CEO Dr. Mark Ciota as stating, “We recognize that this is a significant change to the timeline, and that it impacts current and future patients who were planning to deliver in Albert Lea. We’re committed to working with individual patients and families to explore all options for revising their birth plan as needed.”

In 2017, Mayo Clinic Health System rolled out a plan to consolidate services between the Austin and Albert Lea campuses due to financial losses, staffing issues and declining inpatient volumes

Albert Lea’s Intensive Care Unit services and in-patient surgeries have since been shifted to Austin.

Mayo Clinic had said it expected to move Albert Lea’s childbirth services to Austin in 2020, when construction of a new birth center was expected to be completed.

Mayo Clinic warned in June that the timeline would be sped up.

Dr. Sumit Bhagra, medical director of Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea and Austin, cited staffing issues within Mayo's labor and delivery department as spurring the accelerated timeline.

“Labor and delivery requires a full team of medical professionals to be available around the clock, including a surgical team with anesthesia, a delivering physician, a provider for the baby and several nurses. Depending on the circumstances surrounding the birth, telemedicine technology may be used to connect with a neonatologist or other high-risk pregnancy expert,” stated Heidi Gaston, Mayo Clinic Health System’s head of obstetrics and gynecology, in a release in June.

Mayo Clinic’s original decision in June 2017 to pull the plug on Albert Lea services spurred outrage from city leaders, citizens and longtime patients. A group called Save Our Healthcare was formed to protest the change, and it continues to gather weekly in Albert Lea.

Brad Arends, chairman of Save Our Healthcare, said in June that Mayo Clinic’s decision to move up the timetable doesn’t surprise him.

“We tried to negotiate with them, and they were bound and determined to carry through with this plan. Save Our Healthcare and the City of Albert Lea have moved past Mayo,” he said. “We’re in discussions with an alternative provider to come to Albert Lea to replace some of the services that Mayo is taking away.”

Mayo Clinic previously reported that it lost nearly $13 million in 2014 and 2015 at its campuses in Austin and Albert Lea.

Mayo Clinic officials said there were 297 births in Albert Lea in 2018, and 369 in Austin. The numbers in Albert Lea and Austin averaged nearly 450 births per year at each site between 2001 and 2016, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

Austin's births didn’t fall below 400 during that period, while Albert Lea’s number has dropped four straight years.

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Business Reporter

Jeff has worked at newspapers as a reporter, columnist, editor, photographer and copy editor since 1992. He started at the Post Bulletin in 1999. Kiger is the PB's business reporter and writes a daily column, "Heard on the Street."