'Everyone's feeling tense': Community expresses discontent over proposed hospital cuts

M Health Fairview, which owns two hospitals in St. Paul, announced plans to cut 20% in health care costs.

The cuts would affect Bethesda Hospital, which is an acute care longer-term facility. 

As for St. Joseph's downtown, which has 100 psychiatric beds, no cuts have been made at this point, but community members have expressed concerns over the future of that campus.

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for M Health Fairview said the Recovery Services Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, which offers services such as the specialized substance use disorder program for the deaf and partially deaf, is being combined with the system's Lodging Plus Program and will remain operational.

"This program is very close to my heart," Phillip Steinbruckner said.

Steinbruckner felt compelled to join a community gathering at a St. Paul church Tuesday night. He believes having a sign language interpreter on hand back then and at the meeting makes all the difference. 

"Are you kidding me?" he said. "The one and only available program left in America for deaf patients?"

M Health Fairview has proposed merging that treatment program where patients and staff communicate face to face, sign to sign, into one which relies instead on interpreters, a change that could result in time and communication delays.

Mary Turner, the head of the Minnesota Nurses Association vented about the proposed change.

 "We consider patient abandonment not what we expect from a health care system, and that is to take care of people," Turner said.

At Bethesda, which handles patients transitioning out of the hospital and before they need a nursing home, administrators said current patients won't be affected, but going forward it would treat a smaller number of people transferred in from outside the Fairview system. 

"Everyone's feeling tense. We don't have answers — should we look for a job?" nurse Melanie Timpano asked aloud during the meeting.

Also in attendance was Ward 3 City Council Member Chris Tolbert.

"I think we all felt blindsided," he said. "It really came out of nowhere. We read about it in the papers and didn't have a heads up."

James Hereford, the CEO at M Health Fairview, issued a public statement on Linkedin:

"The fact is, healthcare expenses are pushing families to the brink. Nearly half of Americans on commercial insurance have a high-deductible plan, and 80% of those never reach their deductible, which means they are paying out of pocket for care. A recent survey revealed 54% of Americans have put off care to avoid the expense. Healthcare that isn’t affordable isn’t accessible.
"To allow the status quo to continue while the basic right of healthcare becomes increasingly unaffordable is unacceptable. Instead, Fairview is challenging convention and transforming our system for more affordable and better care. Last year, we undertook one of the most comprehensive and inclusive planning processes in our history. Now, we go into 2020 with a three-year plan to balance cost reductions with innovation investments with a target goal to reduce total cost of care by 20%.
"A critically important piece of that process is engaging with the people and communities we serve in helping us think through this transformation. Over the past few weeks, we had more than 100 meetings with various groups and stakeholders. And we are not done talking with patients, employees, community groups, and government officials, and incorporating their feedback and solutions into our initiatives. Our plan is to then return to the community and share our solutions they helped us create.  
"But we couldn’t transform without the support of our caregivers and employees, who work tirelessly each day to provide high-quality care to our patients. It’s their passion for better care that will make this transformation a reality. And I’m excited to continue working with them to re-envision better, more affordable care for our community."

A spokesperson for Fairview emphasized the outpatient clinic at Bethesda would continue to operate and the changes will roll out over the next few months. However, the plan is not a done deal and M Health Fairview is still seeking community feedback.

You can leave your feedback at the link here