FAIRMONT - On the heels of news that US Foods is shutting down its Fairmont operations, the City Council on Monday discussed long-standing concerns about the viability of another Fairmont employer: Mayo Clinic Health System.
"They sure are cutting ties with a lot of people," said Councilman Chad Askeland, mentioning friends and acquaintances who have lost their jobs with Mayo.
How many local jobs the organization has cut is unclear, with numbers varying wildly. For a period of time, the facility was struggling greatly with physician turnover and the loss of several doctors who had been with the clinic for decades. But in the past year, recruitment efforts have paid off, and several new providers were added to the employee roster.
While physicians are in a high-profile position, the loss of many behind-the-scenes jobs also has raised local concerns. Since Mayo's Southwest Minnesota Region was created, several of its departments have been relocated to the more populous Mankato, which acts as the unofficial headquarters for the region, as the organization aims to improve efficiencies and cut costs.
Councilman Terry Anderson referred to the layoffs as an "exodus" that is turning the Fairmont facility into a "triage center."
Sharing Anderson's concerns about the viability of the Mayo medical center is Councilman Wes Clerc, who said the city needs to offer up all the help it can give to prevent Fairmont from turning into just a "stop-and-go." And if that fails - consider recruitment of another health care provider: "If their business model is not working ... we owe it to our citizens" to look elsewhere.
"They're making a business decision. I understand that totally," Clerc said, "but we need to make a business decision too."
City administrator Mike Humpal informed the council he has been meeting with regional Mayo leadership on a regular basis. He said he hopes to have more information to share with the group in the next couple of weeks.
In response to the comments made Monday by the council, Bob Bartingale, administrator at the Fairmont medical center, gave the following statement:
"We were surprised and disappointed that someone would question our commitment to our patients, their families and our community. We are confident in our ability to continue providing high-quality medical care locally.
"We know that health care needs to change to reflect greater efficiencies, enhance patient outcomes and lower costs. As part of Mayo Clinic, we are committed to doing that right here in Fairmont - well into the future.
"Recently, we've added four family medicine physicians and multiple advanced-practice providers. We have seen increased clinic visits with the addition of providers, seeing greater than 400 patients daily. We have also seen an increase in hospital admissions.
"We are planning carefully for 2014 to remain financially viable, as well as meet quality, safety and patient satisfaction goals. The business of medicine is changing, and we are planning and adjusting our practice to be sustainable into the future."
The council discussion on Monday came immediately after the meeting adjourned, while the council was still gathered, so it will not appear on public broadcast.