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Mayo Clinic may accelerate end of birth services in Albert Lea

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Mayo Clinic's Gonda Building
Mayo Clinic's Gonda Building in Rochester, Minn., in January 2016. Staff departures are squeezing birth center staffing at Mayo Clinic's Albert Lea and Austin, Minn., hospitals, and the health system is evaluating whether to consolidate birth and other services this year instead of 2020.
Alex Kolyer for MPR News 2016

Mayo Clinic says severe staff shortages may speed up a massive consolidation of services between two satellite campuses in Albert Lea and Austin in southeastern Minnesota.

Mayo's plan to move intensive care, inpatient surgery and labor and delivery services from its Albert Lea hospital to its Austin campus has been in the works since 2017.

Moving labor and delivery to Austin — the final step in the consolidation — was slated to happen in 2020 to coincide with the construction of a new birth center there.

But Dr. Sumit Bhagra, medical director for both Mayo locations, says severe staffing shortages may require a faster timeline.

"We've had unexpected departures that really forces of us to look at the viability of maintaining two birthing units in adjacent cities running until late 2020 as was the original plan," he said.

Mayo has had to tap temporary nurses and doctors, as well as staff from Rochester, Minn., to help.

Bhagra said that keeping permanent staff in one place will reduce the time they have to be on call and travel between birth units.

Bhagra said this is important to ensuring that the health system facilities don't see any more staff departures. Like many rural hospitals, Mayo's satellite facilities struggle to attract physicians and nurses.

Mayo's decision to move Albert Lea's birth, intensive care and inpatient surgery services to Austin has been controversial.

A spokesperson for the Save Our Hospital group in Albert Lea was not immediately available for comment. But the group has argued that Albert Lea has enough births each year to justify keeping the birth center open.