ALBERT LEA, Minn. | The Albert Lea City Council has unanimously agreed to contribute up to $35,000 to hire a health care forensic accountant to identify the long-term feasibility of the Albert Lea hospital.

Council approval on Sept. 11 came as Mayo Clinic Health System moves forward with its plan to transition most inpatient services to Austin, and the Albert Lea-Save Our Hospital organization on Sunday approved donating up to $35,000 to hire an accountant. 

A timeline to hire a forensic accountant was not identified, and Albert Lea City Manager Chad Adams said under one received quote, the three entities would cover the cost for the accountant if they each contributed $35,000. He hopes to receive lower bid prices, and he said he has received substantial support for the city helping fund the hiring of the accountant.

“I think that’s helpful for the city to understand, if we were asked in the future to maybe create a hospital district, or consider a hospital district, or if we’re going to provide assistance for a hospital in the future,” he said.

Adams and 1st Ward Councilor Rich Murray participated in a meeting with local representatives and Mayo officials on Friday. During the meeting, representatives pressed the officials to delay the planned transition, but they reportedly did not agree to push back their plan to transition the intensive care unit to Austin next month.

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.

Prior to the vote, Save Our Hospital co-chairperson Brad Arends read a letter from Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson earlier in the day advising local representatives to hire a health care finance consultant.

He said there are hospitals with similar characteristics to the Albert Lea hospital that are making 3 to 5 percent on their full-service hospitals.

“So what you are hearing from Mayo actually is, Mayo under the Mayo way cannot make money in this hospital,” Arends said. “But, there are hospitals that are non-Mayo facilities that are proving that it can happen.”

Mayo spokeswoman Ginger Plumbo said last week though the hospital system’s financial situation was a factor in its decision, it “was not the major driver.” Mayo Clinic Health System’s struggle to recruit and retain health care professionals in a rural setting were factors in the decision, said Plumbo, who added the hospital system’s staffing shortage creates a safety concern for patients who are in the hospital for multiple days.

Second Ward Councilor Larry Baker said in his 11 years on the council, he has never seen an issue that has brought the community together like Mayo’s announcement to transition most inpatient services to Austin.

“In my 11 years on the council, this is the first time I’ve ever seen an issue polarize everybody to be on the same side,” he said. “And also, everybody respects everybody’s opinion.”

The council also discussed hiring a health care forensic accountant to evaluate the financial situation of Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea and Austin, but decided to move forward with hiring an accountant to evaluate the feasibility of the Albert Lea hospital.

Sam Wilmes is a reporter for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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