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Attorney general asks Mayo to pause consolidation

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Lori Swanson, Minnesota attorney general
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The Post Bulletin has learned that Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson became the latest public figure to request that Mayo Clinic pause its consolidation plans in Albert Lea.

She joins a list that features AARP , Lt. Gov. Tina Smith and 1st District Congressman Tim Walz , among others.

Mayo also rejected Swanson's call for a delay

Swanson's previously unreported letter sent Sept. 11 to Dr. John Noseworthy, Mayo's President and CEO, points to "a great deal of consternation" that Mayo's decision has caused within Freeborn County.

In his Sept. 18 response, Noseworthy said he "must respectfully decline" her request "in order to serve the best interests of our patients."

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Swanson requested that the delay be granted due to the pending financial review of the hospital to determine its economic viability. The review is projected to cost about $100,000 and take at least three months. At the time of the letter, Save Our Hospital and the Albert Lea City Council had each committed $35,000 for that cause, but the Freeborn County Board agreed to fund that same amount on Tuesday's meeting.

The groups are currently working to hire a financial expert to conduct the review.

"It strikes me that the review could help facilitate an acceptable path forward for all parties," Swanson wrote. "I am told that such a review is likely to take at least 90 days to complete, however.

"In order to make the financial review productive in potentially moving the parties toward a consensus approach, I ask that Mayo Clinic agree to a standstill in the cessation of any medical services in Albert Lea while the financial review is underway."

Mayo has said it conducted its own 18-month review before deciding to consolidate services at Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea and Austin. That decision was announced June 12, sparking questions and concern across the region. One protest was held outside Mayo's Rochester campus and a second is planned Sept. 30 in Albert Lea, two days before Mayo moves Albert Lea's ICU to Austin.

Mayo officials have since explained that significant financial losses and ongoing staffing challenges — both with recruiting and retention — made the current arrangement unsustainable.

Swanson's letter requesting a delay was sent the same day she cleared Mayo of any legal issues . Her lengthy legal review was prompted by a request from Freeborn County Attorney David Walker.

Her opinion included recommendations for Freeborn County, including hiring an expert to conduct a financial review of the Albert Lea hospital. She also offered to assist the city and county with pursuing alternate options, such as recruiting another provider, subsidizing Mayo's losses or purchasing the hospital from Mayo.

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Mayo leaders have repeatedly rebuffed similar requests, including last month while speaking to the Post Bulletin Editorial Board when Mayo Clinic vice president and MCHS leader Bobbie Gostout explicitly ruled out a delay.

Noseworthy's letter to Swanson reaffirmed that stance.

"With regard to a possible pause in the consolidation of services in Albert Lea and Austin, Mayo Clinic must respectfully decline your request," Noseworthy wrote. "The critical staffing shortage and related patient safety risk that drove our decision to consolidate have not changed. We have an obligation to move forward with consolidation plan to ensure that we can appropriately staff critical positions and continue to deliver safe, high-quality care.

"We recognize and regret that our consolidation plan is unpopular with some residents of Albert Lea and other stakeholders. However, we are convinced that it is necessary to proceed with our plan in order to serve the best interests of our patients."

Mayo spokeswoman Ginger Plumbo said Thursday that "almost all" of the 19 nurses who staff Albert Lea's ICU opted to transfer to another department in the same building. She says they were all offered positions to stay within the Mayo system.

The Albert Lea ICU will stop admitting patients on Thursday, Sept. 28, Plumbo said. Starting Monday, ICU patients will be analyzed by a care team to ensure patients won't need lengthy stays that require transfers at the end of the week.

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Dr. John Noseworthy

Related Topics: MAYO CLINIC
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