FAIRMONT - The CEO of Mayo Clinic Health System acknowledged problems and mistakes at the local medical center Monday. His pledge to do better was met skeptically, and worse, by citizens and local leaders at Monday's City Council meeting.
Dr. Robert Nesse has been in his position for about four years, while the Mayo relationship with Fairmont stretches back 10. Nesse said he wants to rebuild trust and improve communication here, adding that the future of Mayo in Fairmont is ultimately up to the people who live here and use the hospital and clinic.
"The big question: Does Mayo want to stay in this community? Yes we do," Nesse said.
He also offered a deeper defense, saying health care has changed rapidly and will change more, given the federal Affordable Care Act, i.e. Obamacare. Medical providers are being forced to lower costs while treating more patients, and Mayo has a model in place to do just that. Upheaval in the industry is happening everywhere, not just in Fairmont, he argued.
And while Nesse agreed with critics that Mayo faces a problem locally, he disagreed that it has grown overwhelming.
"This conversation [about Mayo in Fairmont] cannot happen day after day, week after week, month after month," he said. "We have to move forward."
Fairmont Mayor Randy Quiring said he, Councilman Wes Clerc, city administrator Mike Humpal and Martin County Commissioner Steve Pierce met with top Mayo officials, including Nesse, in April to express deep concerns about local medical center. Those include: a loss of jobs to the regional Mayo site in Mankato, and whether those jobs can be brought back; too much loss and turnover among local physicians; and poor perceptions of Mayo locally.
Dr. John Holstine of Fairmont told the council he practiced medicine for 40 years locally, the last four with Mayo. He also was involved with the community hospital board that agreed to a merger with Mayo. Holstine said the merger was of concern to the local board, exactly for the reasons that have emerged. A main problem, he noted, is that Mayo abandoned the mission for Fairmont to be a regional medical hub for southern Minnesota and northern Iowa.
Former Mayor Donna Holstine said Mayo's problems are not just local, but extend to other southern Minnesota towns, where the treatment of employees is poor and the turnover of physicians is too high.
Dr. Lael Luedtke, who worked locally for Mayo from 2010-2012, described problems in employee relations and medical care within the Mayo system. She derided Nesse's visit, saying "slick presentations and nice suits" cannot make amends for what has gone on in Fairmont. She said that if Mayo wants to be of real help in Fairmont, it should return the hospital to local control.
Councilman Terry Anderson had a similar message, asking Nesse point blank if Mayo would consider leaving town. Anderson suggested Mayo "mismanagement and the dismantling of our hospital" is just the tip of the iceberg of things to come.
Nesse could only respond to critics by saying he hopes the evening is a start to better communication. He said he wants local Mayo workers to feel safe in speaking up about problems or concerns. He also said Mayo wants patient care to be the top priority. He said he appreciated hearing what the people here have to say, but Mayo is not leaving Fairmont because Mayo is committed to the city and the employees here.
Clerc told Nesse that if he wants to change direction and perceptions locally, Mayo must actively recruit and retain physicians here.
"Personally, I would like Mayo to succeed," Quiring told Nesse, "but not at Fairmont's expense."