Archived Story

Some say Mayo guarded expansion plans too long

Published 10:13am Friday, May 3, 2013

Minnesota Public Radio News

Two bills that would help the Mayo Clinic develop its planned $5 billion expansions are making their way through the Minnesota Legislature this session.

But as the process has unfolded, some lawmakers and Rochester residents have complained they were caught by surprise when clinic officials announced the project known as Destination Medical Center in January.

Officials with the hospital and clinic system kept details of the expansion plan to a small circle after it came to life in 2007 at a power lunch in Washington D.C. That first meeting was between Glenn Forbes, then-CEO of Mayo Clinic’s Rochester campus; Bruce Fairchild, then-general manager of the city’s historic Kahler Hotel; and John Wade, president of the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce.

At the time, Mayo Clinic leaders were discussing how the campus should continue to grow. Rochester business leaders were trying to figure out how to create a better experience for visitors and patients by improving the city’s hospitality industry, Wade said.

“We talked about the experiences that patients have here, and we talked about hope and we talked about health and we talked about hospitality,” Wade said. “And ultimately, many of those same themes would be included broadly in the Destination Medical Center initiative.”

Two years after that lunch, Mayo Clinic created a working group of about 30 community leaders to help create a framework for its destination medical community proposal.

Mayo Clinic’s planning meetings were open to certain organizations and community leaders but not to the general public.

That has some people in Rochester complaining that it took Mayo Clinic leaders too long to engage all of the city’s residents in the conversation about the project. Among them is Olmsted County District Court Judge Kevin Lund.

“I think the first time I heard about it was probably the first time the majority of people in the community heard about it — when it was going to be voted on as part of the half-cent sales tax extension,” Lund said.

Last year, Rochester voters approved an extension of the local sales tax that included a $20 million city contribution to pay for improvements that would support Mayo Clinic’s growth. But at the time, voters didn’t know the contribution would be part of the much larger investment plan that was rolled out at the state Capitol in January.

Lisa Clarke, administrator for the Destination Medical Center, said Mayo Clinic officials did seek input from the public.

Besides members of the health care community, the Mayo Clinic working group of community leaders included chamber members, representatives of the hospitality industry and non-profit organizations.

The list also included Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede and Assistant City Administrator Gary Neumann, Rochester Post-Bulletin Publisher Randy Chapman, KTTC-TV General Sales Manager Liz Dahlen and downtown business owners.

“We had focus groups, we had opportunities for the community to weigh in, we’ve had brownbag sessions,” Clarke said. “This is before and after we publicly announced it… So if there was any question about whether or not the community is involved, we’ve from the start the goal was to involve the community.”

By the time voters were asked to approve the sales tax extension, Lund said, it was too late.

“I think the troubling aspect for me and for many in the community was, why wasn’t the community told about this larger initiative that was obviously part of this $20 million?” Lund said. “Why weren’t we told that from the beginning?”

Others like Interim Council President Randy Staver, who support the expansion plan, concede they didn’t know details about Mayo Clinic’s request to the state until just before it was introduced.

“We were introduced to the legislation literally a few days ahead of its introduction, and so we had some opportunity to at least preview it, and just be prepared that it’s coming and that was it,” Staver said.

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