The future of healthcare in Albert Lea: Healthcare Coalition remains optimistic amid MercyOne departure

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(ABC 6 News) – As MercyOne’s Albert Lea clinic prepares to close its doors for good, the healthcare landscape for the roughly 5,000 patients who receive treatment there is once again in limbo.

But, the grassroots group that spent roughly four years fighting to bring MercyOne to the city is optimistic that they can find solutions.

The Albert Lea Healthcare Coalition worked to bring MercyOne to town just two years ago after Mayo Clinic Health Systems transitioned many of its services to Austin. During a public meeting on Tuesday, more than 100 people turned out to hear from coalition members on what the potential solutions may be.

“We’re not at square one, we were at square one back in 2019. We had nothing but a citizen’s action group, we were a voice,” President of the Albert Lea Health Coalition Brad Arends said.

Time isn’t necessarily on their side, though. MercyOne plans to transition its services currently available in Albert Lea by the end of the year. Despite this, coalition members are hopeful that alternative plans can be made, stressing that despite the news, it’s not the worst-case scenario.

The city will lose MercyOne but will retain the 64 thousand-square-foot building for when, or if, a new healthcare provider decides to take over. They also have $520,000 in community-provided funds that can be employed to address any financial setbacks.

“We have assets, we have people,” Arends said.

The thousands of patients covered by MercyOne will still be able to receive care until the end of the year. This does give a bit of breathing room to the coalition when it comes to planning, but if alternatives aren’t identified by the start of 2024, patients will likely need to travel to Mason City, Iowa for treatment.

But, quick action could still have results; and Tuesday’s meeting was an opportunity to not only hear from those immediately impacted by MercyOne’s departure but to identify a vision for the future of healthcare in Albert Lea.

William Buege, a retired physician, told ABC 6 News that the future of care for patients currently covered by MercyOne should continue to be viewed with optimism.

“We hope to get an urgent care center started, and some more imaging here in Albert Lea, more services in Albert Lea so people don’t need to go out of town,” said Buege.

And despite the potential hole that could be left behind once MercyOne closes its doors, according to the coalition, there are already organizations that may be ready to fill it. During Tuesday’s meeting, coalition members told those in attendance that they’ve been in contact with a handful of groups that are interested in the idea of moving into Albert Lea. That includes one that the coalition has already interviewed.

On top of those options, they’ve also been in contact with doctors who say they want to practice in Albert Lea.

MercyOne’s impending absence is another shakeup for a city that has spent years working to provide accessible, local options for patients. But, as the coalition sees it, there’s still plenty of room, and time, to find successful alternatives.