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Demonstrators from Albert Lea march in Rochester against Mayo changes

ROCHESTER — Approximately 150 residents from the Albert Lea area took their protest to Mayo Clinic on Thursday, in their effort to keep a full-service, acute care hospital in Albert Lea.

On the same day, the Mayo Clinic Health System announced it added an in-depth section to its public website at
albertleaaustinfacts.mayoclinic.org to provide answers to frequently asked questions and misunderstandings about the changes to its services in Albert Lea and Austin, it said in a news release.

Before the march began, the group gathered across from the Gonda Building and chanted phrases toward the building, denouncing Mayo Clinic Health System’s plan to transition most inpatient services to Austin.

The event comes as tensions continue to simmer between the hospital and the community after Mayo Clinic Health System announced the transition in June.

While most of the Albert Lea inpatient services will move to Austin, behavioral health services will move to Albert Lea.

Emergency services, pregnancy care, outpatient surgeries, lab and radiology services will be in both locations.

The Albert Lea-Save our Hospital organization was formed following the announcement.

Andrea Jensen of Albert Lea — secretary of the Save Our Hospital organization —  brought a sign that included the words “Mayo equals Goliath,” Albert Lea equals David” and “We are bringing our slingshot.”

“And my stones are caring, compassion and truth,” she said.

Jensen and her husband are small business owners, and she said the issue is important to the community’s economic well-being.

“And just the fact of having nursing homes in our town not being able to get our care for our elderly,” she said. “Having babies — my children were born in Albert Lea, we were both born in Albert Lea … our granddaughter was born there. I would like to see my continued line born in Albert Lea and taken care of. It’s very important.”

Dale Haukoos of Northwood, Iowa, said the transition needs to be stopped.

“It’s going to be devastating if we can’t stop this,” he said.

In a statement issued after the event, Mayo Clinic said it respected and appreciated the right of community members to express their opinions.

“But, we are disappointed by the fear and misinformation being spread by some members of the Save Our Hospital group,” officials said. “Frightening patients and the community with terms like ‘life-threatening’ and ‘economically devastating’ is irresponsible and not grounded in fact. Albert Lea’s hospital is not closing. To the contrary, Mayo Clinic Health System is committed to Albert Lea and is preserving jobs and high-quality health care, and we intend to work with the community and elected officials to minimize the impact on individuals and the community.”

At the march, Albert Lea resident Mike Levisen said he hopes hospital staffing levels stay the same.

“If Mayo isn’t going to continue with it, well, let somebody else come and in and manage it,” he said. “You better think about the thousands of people in the surrounding area.”

According to the hospital, the question of whether Mayo would be willing to sell its Albert Lea hospital has been raised by the community.

“We have no active discussions or plans to,” the hospital stated. “We want to continue the partnership with the community of Albert Lea that began more than 20 years ago. We are working hard to help people understand that we are positioning Albert Lea for the future of health care — services that are delivered in the outpatient care setting, with fewer and fewer hospitalizations.

“Our vision and our shared goal with the people of Albert Lea is a thriving medical center that provides the care they use most and keeps the economy strong and growing.”