Essentia, Mayo looking to close Minnesota hospital labor and delivery units

Essentia Health-Fosston (Minn.) and Mayo Clinic Health System's New Prague, Minn., site are facing closure of their labor and delivery units amid ongoing cuts and closures to obstetrics services. 

The Minnesota Department of Health held a public hearing Jan. 30 regarding the potential closure of labor and delivery services at Essentia Health's Fosston hospital, which prompted local community members and city leaders to share their concerns. 

"They [Essentia Health] discontinued delivering babies in June of 2022. They called it a pause. We have reason to believe that never was a pause, it really was a shutdown, but they called it that and led everyone to believe it was that for nearly a year," Fosston Mayor Jim Offerdahl told Becker's

Mr. Offerdahl said an agreement was reached between First Care Medical Services, a city-owned 501(c)(3) organization that operated the Fosston hospital, and Essentia Health in 2009, which gave Essentia control of the hospital with First Care Medical Services retaining ownership of the property and holding the hospital's license. 

Now, the city's intention is to terminate the agreement with Duluth, Minn.-based Essentia Health and regain operational control of the hospital. 

"[The agreement] says that, one year after termination, the voting share of First Care Medical Services is returned to the city. It also spells out that Essentia will operate the hospital for that period of one year to allow for an orderly transition really for both parties," he said. 

While the city would not give operational control to another entity, it would be willing to work with another healthcare system. However, Mr. Offerdahl said he still has hope things can work out with Essentia. 

"We would work with Essentia under those terms if they wanted to come to the table," Mr. Offerdahl said.

"Essentia Health remains committed to the residents of Fosston and plans to remain in this community to continue providing safe, high-quality care. We are unable to comment on matters more appropriately addressed through the dispute-resolution process with the City," a spokesperson for Essentia Health said in a statement shared with Becker's

The Minnesota Department of Health also plans to hold a public hearing on Feb. 6 over the planned Feb. 9 closure of the Mayo Clinic's New Prague labor and delivery services.

"The decision comes in the wake of challenges associated with low birth volumes and physician staffing shortages," a Mayo Clinic Health System press release shared with Becker's said.

Following the unit closure, the New Prague site will continue offering prenatal, postnatal and gynecological care at its Women's Health Clinic.  

"We are delivering fewer than 100 babies per year at the New Prague hospital, and our teams need to have frequent opportunities to deliver babies to maintain their skills. In addition, we have reached a critical physician staffing shortage," James Hebl, MD, regional vice president at Mayo Clinic Health System, said in the release. "Our New Prague site has only one obstetrician remaining. Despite aggressive recruitment efforts, we have been unsuccessful in filling several obstetrician openings due to a nationwide shortage of physicians."

Mayo Clinic is working to ensure the closure does not interrupt patient care and is providing support and other organization opportunities for affected staff. 

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