St. Paul City Council members draft resolution opposing changes at Bethesda, St. Joseph’s hospitals

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The number of beds at Bethesda Hospital was recently reduced, causing concern among St. Paul leaders.

On Monday, City Council members announced a resolution opposing the cuts at Bethesda Hospital, the uncertainty about the future of St. Joseph’s hospital and layoffs within Fairview Health Services. It will be introduced for discussion at Wednesday’s council meeting.

Council Member Dai Thao expressed frustration that he learned about the changes by reading the newspaper.

“This is not acceptable,” Thao said. “We need care in our communities, especially communities that have been historically disadvantaged, with limited access to opportunities.”

City Council Members Thao, Rebecca Noecker and Jane Price stood alongside Minnesota Nurses Association members at the press conference.

It’s been more than a month since Dec. 6, when Fairview Health Services announced an effort to reduce costs.

According to a company spokesperson, at the end of 2019, Fairview reduced the workforce by about 340 employees system-wide. Affected employees were notified, said the spokesperson.

The Minnesota Nurses Association told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS the equivalent of about 60 full-time positions will be lost at Bethesda Hospital.

“We have nurses, therapists, care aids and all health care workers are losing their jobs,” said Mary Turner, MNA president. “This is resonating among the nurses all over the state.”

The hospital treats long-term patients during their recovery.

Bethesda Hospital is one of only two facilities statewide treating long term acute care patients. The hospital helps patients who “are ventilator-dependent, are on inpatient dialysis, or have multi-organ or multi-system failure, postsurgical or organ transplant complications, complex wounds that need care, or traumatic or acquired brain injury,” According to the resolution.

Fairview Health Services said it has been gradually reducing the number of beds at Bethesda since December, from about 90 to 50. A spokesperson told us they’ve reached the 50-bed goal but wouldn’t say when it happened.

“The first thing was, where are these patients going to go,” Patti Berg asked.

She’s been a nurse at Bethesda hospital for 13 years. Berg said she was shocked to learn there would be cuts to the number of patients they treat. Now, she said, they are waiting to learn how extensive layoffs will be.

MNA is currently negotiating the terms of the layoffs with Fairview Health.

“The not knowing has been very difficult,” Berg said.

City leaders hope the resolution will discourage Fairview Health from making the cuts.

“If they close their door, who is going to take care of it,” Thao asked. “It’s going to be the county, it’s going be the city, it’s going to be neighbors.”

Council Member Jane Prince said it could also cost downtown St. Paul a major employer.

“In my view, it is an abandonment of the central city and I think they have to answer to that,” she said. “I think it’s a very serious decision they are making to walk away from downtown St. Paul.”

While changes are underway at Bethesda, a Fairview Health Services spokesperson told us no decisions have been made regarding St. Joseph’s Hospital.

“We cannot lose the services that are provided at St. Joe’s and Bethesda hospitals, they are absolutely critical,” Noecker said.

She said she met with the healthcare company last week and wants to be involved in developing a solution to preserve the hospitals. She’s calling for Fairview Health Services to be transparent.

“The issue is when you find out about it after, it sounds like decisions have already been made, people have already been laid off, that doesn’t sound like the true spirit of collaboration,” Noecker said.

Fairview declined our request for an interview but sent us the following statement.

“Fairview Health Services shares the City Council’s commitment to improving the health of St. Paul residents, and has been seeking to address many of these challenges through our engagement and transformation work. Over the past several months, we have met with more than 100 stakeholder groups in St. Paul and the East Metro to generate ideas and model plans that address the future of our health system, on behalf of our patients. For example, our commitment to fostering a strong healthcare ecosystem led to a partnership with Open Cities Health Center, an independent federally qualified health center in St. Paul. We ask the council, community and our valued MNA nurses to continue to work with us to improve healthcare in St. Paul.”