You are the owner of this page.
CHRIS ZOELLER, The Globe Gazette 

Hundreds of Save Our Hospital Rally attendees begin their march around the Mayo Clinic building in Albert Lea after a rally in Central Park on Sept. 30.

North Iowans concerned Mayo coverage is too thin with Albert Lea hospital reductions

ALBERT LEA, Minn. | Mayo Clinic Health System will close its ICU in Albert Lea this weekend as Mayo moves inpatient services to Austin.

Though the hospital sits about 12 miles over the Iowa-Minnesota line, many North Iowans could be effected by the closure.

For Betty Chapin, it means she will lose a nearby hospital and will need to travel to either Mayo in Austin or Mercy in Mason City. Both are much further than Albert Lea as she lives near Northwood.

“We’re about four miles from the border,” Chapin said.

The hospital situation is difficult for those living significant distances between Austin and Mason City.

“We face a hurdle because ambulance service for Northwood comes from Mason City and the Albert Lea ambulance doesn’t cross the state line,” Chapin said. “In an emergency, my husband and I probably won’t be getting treated where we want to be.”

Inpatient surgeries are slated to move to Austin in January 2018, and the behavioral health center is expected to move from Austin to Albert Lea in 2019. Labor and delivery services will be the last to relocate to Austin in late 2019 or early 2020.

Chapin received her training as a registered nurse in a three year program at the Albert Lea hospital in 1966 before Mayo took over.

“I’ve been retired for 10 or 11 years now,” Chapin said.

Chapin said she always goes to Albert Lea for her care and she is “very unhappy” with the current situation.

“It’s such a wonderful and caring place,” Chapin said.

Chapin has worked to organize people in Northwood with the “Save Our Hospital” campaign. She gathered signatures for a petition and handed out signs at a booth on Founders Day.

“We had four pages of signatures,” Chapin said. She has also attended meetings in Albert Lea and rallies.

Chapin said she is still holding out hope for Albert Lea.

Tiny Shelton of Forest City said it’s “a crying shame” that Mayo is moving inpatient services from the Albert Lea campus to the Austin campus.

Shelton receives routine care, including mammograms and colonoscopies, at Mayo in Albert Lea.

“Knock on wood, I haven’t had any major surgery,” she said.

But she worries about what will happen in the future if she does have to have surgery that requires a hospital stay.

Shelton said she has nothing against Mercy, which has hospitals in Mason City and Britt.

However, she likes the care she receives from Mayo.

“The people up there are wonderful,” she said, referring to the nurses and the other staff.

But she’s disappointed in the Mayo administration.

“It’s all about money,” Shelton said.

She said the administration is so “gung-ho” about having a large regional health center in Austin that “they are forgetting about the little people and the little towns” in Winnebago and Worth counties, as well as those in southern Minnesota communities such as Kiester and Emmons. 

Mayo’s decision will inconvenience a lot of people, according to Shelton.

“I just think there’s a better way,” she said. “They are messing with a lot of people’s lives.”

Lake Mills City Council member Bill Clark said he would like to see the hospital operate at the same level as before.

According to Mayo Clinic, there are challenges facing rural health care.

“I’m very disappointed,” Clark said. “I know that they can’t keep it open for economic reasons.”

Clark said that he understands Mayo’s explanation for moving services.  

“There are two sides to every story and I’ve read both sides,” Clark said. “I understand that side (Mayo) too but my heart still says I would like to see it (Albert Lea’s hospital) operate as is.”

Clark has been outspoken on the issue since he has been a patient at the Albert Lea hospital several times. He was treated for a heart attack in Albert Lea three years ago.

“They saved my life,” Clark said. “I’ve has a few minor surgeries there too.”

Clark praises the “great staff” and their work.

Though he doesn’t like what is happening and he supports those working to keep the hospital inpatient services, he doesn’t think Mayo will change its mind.

“It’s a great place to be,” Clark said. “No one wants it to leave.”

Clark is pleased that Lake Mills will be able to keep the Mayo Clinic in town.

Chapin said she has most of her basic care in Lake Mills now but for other things, she’ll have to consider Austin or Mason City.

“I probably will follow the hospital as far as Austin,” Chapin said. “I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do.” 

Mary Pieper contributed to this report. 

Mason City police captain on medical marijuana: 'Iowa is trying to be careful but compassionate' with law

DES MOINES — A new state advisory panel charged with helping implement an expanded medical marijuana law in Iowa is trying to balance several demands. 

Those demands include an expedited timeline with a slow-go desire to avoid possible pitfalls as approved uses of cannabidiol widen. 

“I think the state of Iowa is trying to be careful but compassionate how they roll this out,” said Mike McKelvey, a Mason City police captain who was Gov. Kim Reynolds’ choice as chairman of Iowa’s Medical Cannabidiol Board.

The board was created during the legislative session earlier this year. It consists of McKelvey as the law enforcement representative and eight experts in various medical fields. 

They have been tasked with helping develop a plan to set up a state-sanctioned system of growing and dispensing marijuana-derived cannabis oil.

They would also widen the variety of medical conditions for which doctors could prescribe lower-strength cannabidiol to patients.

“There’s a lot of angst from some parents or patients who have been unable to get this legally in the state, and they want to get it because it has apparently had significant beneficial impacts on their children who have seizure disorders or other issues and they’re very overanxious to get this,” McKelvey said.

“At the same time, I think I and the other board members will try to learn from how some other states may have implemented the process — either too hastily or without checks and balances just to make sure things don’t fall through the cracks or important things are missed. It’s kind of new, uncharted territory for Iowa but I think we’ll look at other states and try to at least give it a decent shot and hopefully make some good suggestions moving forward.”

Several years ago, former Gov. Terry Branstad and the Legislature agreed to decriminalize possession of cannabis oil purchased out-of-state for treatment of chronic epilepsy.

The new law allows Iowa doctors to prescribe cannabis oil for treatment of more than a dozen chronic and debilitating conditions.

It also provides for the creation of no more than two businesses to grow marijuana and produce medical cannabidiol. No more than five businesses would be allowed to sell the product. 

Q: Licensing deadlines are Dec. 1 for the manufacturers, April 1 for the dispensaries and availability of products for purchase by December 2018. Is that timeline too aggressive?

McKelvey: I suppose it depends who you ask. If you were a patient and wanted to get this stuff legally in Iowa, it’s probably not soon enough in their opinion. But I think Iowa is trying to make sure that the rules and regulations and sustainability of this process is in place before we move forward. I know some of the ideas here in selecting a manufacturer or a dispensary is that they are going to be sustainable long-term to be reliable in producing, providing enough product for the patients who need it.

Q: What are you looking for in terms of the new operations?

McKelvey: Making sure the internal process is reliable. By Iowa law, the THC content can’t be more than 3 percent. So, just making sure it’s a reliable product and is it what they say it is. How much they can produce? Will they be able to make enough to take care of the patient load in Iowa? Timeline? I don’t know how fast they can grow and produce this. Also, the security controls — are they going to monitor their inventory, are they going to have security systems or security guards or whatever in place to control access and loss or theft, and then also employee monitoring? Obviously, you would have to have credible, law-biding employees in place versus some illegal operation. So there’s going to be a lot of that checks and balances that I think the board and the Department of Public Health will look at to select up to two manufacturers.

Q: From a law enforcement perspective, do you have any trepidation about expanding into this area?

McKelvey: When you look across the country and the trend toward medical marijuana, marijuana legalization or decriminalization — obviously it’s a growing trend and we’re only talking about CBD oil here, we’re not talking about edibles or the leafy stuff that you smoke. We know as law enforcement that there is some interest in Iowa to look at these other forms, but in law enforcement we also know from looking at our own drug seizures that most of the marijuana coming into Iowa is from these external states, especially the ones where it’s legal because there’s a lot of diversion of medical or legal marijuana that’s coming into Iowa and being sold illegally for other purposes. All of this stuff is a concern. I think CBD is probably the least of the major concerns. When you’re comparing leafy marijuana and edibles to CBD, I think CBD is probably a nice, safe way to start looking at this if there’s going to be a broader discussion on marijuana in general. I think we’re kind of getting our toes in the pool on CBDs and just kind of assessing that first before we take a big jump and go to the leaf or edible variety.

Q: Former Gov. Branstad always expressed concern over unintended consequences associated with a creeping acceptance of marijuana. Do you share that concern?

McKelvey: “Like I said before, I think Iowa is trying to be careful but compassionate — doing this carefully to make sure we’re not going to let something slip through the cracks that may impact Iowa negatively down the road. There seems to be a lot of misinformation out there that the public assumes the marijuana today is the same marijuana from back in Woodstock or that their grandparents may have smoked. What we’re seeing today is that the marijuana from the ’60s and ’70s was probably under 5 percent THC, and kind of the average street value of marijuana today is closer to 20 percent THC. There’s also some genetic engineering going on of marijuana, some of the stuff that wasn’t around back in the ’60s and ’70s, so there are some concerns out there and I think it wise to move slowly in this area.

John Skipper / File 


Mason City motel's future remains a mystery
 Steve Bohnel  / 

MASON CITY | By the end of last year, the American Best Inn & Suites at 24 Fifth St. S.W. had closed its doors to a lengthy list of violations in a Cerro Gordo County Health Department inspection report.

Now, roughly 10 months later, the building remains closed, with most of its first-floor windows boarded up.

The building itself shows no visible signs of deterioration, but what remains unclear is what its future will be.

City and state records show that Ace Ventures, LLC owns the motel. When the Globe Gazette contacted Ace Ventures, a representative stated that Dr. Umashankar Subramaniam is one of the co-owners of the motel, and added he is trying to sell it.

Subramaniam works in pediatrics at Mercy Medical Center in Mason City, and could not be reached for comment by phone or email this past week.

Workers from multiple businesses in the area said they haven't seen any construction occur at American Best Inn during the past year.

Tom Abbas, who has been manager of Floyd and Leonard Auto Electric Inc. for more than 30 years, said he thinks the motel's owners have not made any improvements to the building because it would be hard to make a profit.

He added that police responded to calls about the motel almost daily around the time of its inspection and closure.

"It's better than when it was occupied," Abbos said.

One of the challenges of any kind of development at the site is its specific location. Tricia Sandahl, Mason City's planning and zoning manager, said the motel currently sits in a medium-risk floodplain, and any sort of development would require a floodplain permit.

Photos: The empty buildings of Mason City

Sandahl added that more specifically, new construction would have to be three feet above the base-flood levels —the level at which there is a one percent chance of a "100-year-flood" occurring each year.

"Obviously, elevating that building is a challenge," Sandahl said. "But if you get enough engineers looking at it, anything can be done."

The city forced the motel to close after Ray Quayle, Mason City's rental housing inspector, found several issues with it last year. Quayle said there were multiple complaints from Mason City police and nearby residents and businesses.

He added he white-tagged the building Nov. 15, and it closed Dec. 1.

Outside of rumors, Quayle said he hasn't heard anything about the owners trying to sell the motel. He added there haven't been any steps taken to improve the structure.

"Right now, it's in limbo and it's their move," he said. "If deterioration continues, then the city would have to step in."

Examples of deterioration include broken windows, pieces falling off and owners failing to secure the building, Quayle added.

Some, however, hope some kind of improvement can occur before such a situation happens. That includes Sandahl, who would support seeing the structure restored.

"I am a fan of mid-century modern design," she said of a possible new hotel. "It could be a good companion to the Park Inn hotel because it would attract a specific type of traveler."