Allina Health executives are confident that a series of tough hospital consolidations this spring will reorganize the Minneapolis-based health care system around what patients want and how insurers pay for care.
The Twin Cities’ largest hospital system by patient admissions halted non-emergency baby deliveries and reduced other inpatient services at hospitals in Cambridge and Hastings. Allina also closed the independent Phillips Eye Institute in Minneapolis, moving its ophthalmology services to nearby Abbott Northwestern Hospital.
While the losses are frustrating for some in communities, the changes will keep hospital care in different places and allow for the expansion of wellness and preventative services that keep people healthier and out of hospitals in the first place. said Sara Criger, senior vice president of Allina. for operations and acute care.
“Over time it’s become more important to us, which is how to impact health and well-being and have that focus versus just responding to illness and injury. “, she said.
Planned deliveries were moved last month from Cambridge to Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids, while inpatient mental health care is being moved to Fridley Campus in Mercy. Cambridge Hospital is being replaced in 2025 by a campus which will include new emergency and surgical departments as well as expanded outpatient mental health and addictions services.
Allina’s reforms are part of a larger trend, particularly in the field of obstetrics. Last month, Bloomington-based HealthPartners moved planned deliveries from Olivia Hospital in central Minnesota to its regional hospital in Hutchinson.
The drop in the number of births has made it more difficult for small hospitals to maintain liability insurance and maintain training for their obstetrical staff. Several rural Minnesota hospitals have halted the practice, while Maple Grove Hospital in Mercy and North Memorial has seen pregnant women come from further afield for deliveries.
M Health Fairview is making big changes to the Twin Cities, closing Bethesda Acute Long-Term Care Hospital and closing all inpatient services except mental health care at St. Joseph’s Hospital in St. Paul. Fairview plans to shut down that service next month and build a 144-bed adult mental health hospital on the Bethesda campus. A public audience on this proposal is scheduled for Thursday.
Hospitals planned for the changes before the financial pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic. Allina said she lost $40 million a week when elective procedures were suspended for two months in the spring of 2020 when COVID-19 spread through Minnesota. Surgery volumes increased 15% from 2020 to 2021, according to Allina’s financial reports, allowing the system to recoup some losses.
Allina’s changes to Regina Medical Center in Hastings include relinquishing its license as a stand-alone hospital and operating it as a satellite of United Hospital in St. Paul. While United is 20 miles away, many patients were going there anyway for baby deliveries or more complex services, Criger said.
Bringing the two hospitals under one license will make it easier to share medical providers and services, she said, and allow for the transfer of recovering patients to Hastings at times when United is overcrowded.
“With the recent closure of St. Joe’s, we are finding more often that we don’t have beds,” Criger said, adding that the transfers will benefit patients during their recovery, bringing them closer to friends and family.
The change is inspired by Allina’s decision in 2017 to bring Fridley’s Unity Hospital under Mercy’s license – moving baby deliveries to Mercy and inpatient mental health care to Unity. Hospitalization volumes increased after consolidating the two campuses, which transfer about 75 patients per week between them.
Public hearings on Allina’s changes revealed some discontent, including fears that the loss of basic services, such as childbirth, could be the death knell for recruiting top doctors. A Regina obstetrics nurse, identified at the hearing as Bobbi, said she was disappointed Allina had not done more to stem the decline in deliveries with better marketing.
“People who were going to the clinic didn’t even know that the hospital in Regina delivers babies,” she said.
Doctors at Phillips objected to their move to Abbott, which cut available operating rooms from 10 to three and forced many eye specialists to perform procedures elsewhere. The loss of so much expertise and collaboration in solving complex eye problems was disheartening, Phillips doctors wrote in a letter opposing the plan.
Criger said the decision was difficult, but the standalone site was not as helpful because many eye doctors had moved simpler procedures to their clinics or outpatient surgery centers.
Allina is also planning additions, including a surgery center in Brooklyn Park and a specialty medical center that will open in Lakeville in 2023. The goal is to make services accessible without being redundant across all facilities.
“We found it difficult to be everything to everyone everywhere…and to do it well,” Criger said, “