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Staffing shortage forces earlier move of childbirth unit

ALBERT LEA, Minn. (KTTC) – Mayo Clinic Health System’s movement of childbirth services from Albert Lea to Austin was originally scheduled for mid or late 2020, but problems filling open positions have accelerated the process.

“Our currently open OB position has been open for two years.” said Sumit Bhagra, medical director at Albert Lea and Austin Mayo Clinic Health System.

Along with problems filling specialized positions, Mayo Clinic Health System says keeping both units running has been difficult and inefficient.

“We are making sure that the full complement of medical services that a community needs is available between those two campuses as opposed to duplicating each service on both campuses.” said Bhagra.

However, citizens of Albert Lea are unhappy nonetheless about the childbirth unit leaving town.

The consolidation received considerable community pushback when first announced in 2017. There were marches and even a strike, but the transition is moving forward.

“I’ve been out here for 18 months every Wednesday. We have a sign brigade that we get our message out to the public on how important it is for Albert Lea to have a full-service health care system here.” said Dave Karge of the group Save Our Healthcare.

The Save Our Healthcare group has given up on keeping Mayo in town and is instead focusing its efforts on bringing a new full-service hospital to town.

“Mayo has made their decision on what they want to do. That’s fine. That’s their decision,” Karge said. “There’s nothing we can do about that, but we can help ourselves here in Albert Lea.”

Bhagra says rural hospitals all over the country are facing difficulties.

“It is hard to find the right person who is going to join a rural practice and stay here for two or three decades and call this home.” Bhagra said.

Save Our Healthcare believes the problem isn’t recruiting, but retaining physicians.

It also believes the 50,000 plus residents in Albert Lea’s broader service area is enough for a hospital to thrive and progress is being made.

“We’re not going to give up. We’ve been out here week in and week out, 10 below zero, snow up to our hips,” said Karge. “Out here with our signs letting everyone know we’re still working on this and it is going forward.”

The Mayo Clinic Health System has already moved the intensive care unit to the Austin campus and opened a new psychiatric services unit in Albert Lea.

During the week of June 24th, most inpatient care will transition to the Austin campus.

Alex Tejada

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