ALBERT LEA, Minn. | Mayo Clinic Health System closed its ICU in Albert Lea the weekend of Sept. 30-Oct. 1 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 -- including those in Winnebago County.
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.”
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.
Lake Mills City Council member Bill Clark said he would like to see the hospital in Albert Lea 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.
For Betty Chapin, the changes 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.”
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.”
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.
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.
Mary Pieper contributed to this report.