Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Community Voices features opinion pieces from a wide variety of authors and perspectives. (Submission Guidelines)

DMC has made Mayo a political piñata

The following editorial appeared in the Rochester Post-Bulletin.

There are good reasons to criticize how Mayo Clinic has handled its plans for phasing out inpatient hospital care in Albert Lea. Destination Medical Center is not one of them.

It’s ridiculous for Gov. Mark Dayton, legislators and other public officials to whack Mayo with DMC whenever they disagree with the clinic on decisions large and small that have little or nothing to do with DMC.

When Mayo announced last year that it would change its food service vendor, it was lambasted by critics, primarily union activists, who cited DMC. “The Mayo Clinic has been asking for tens of millions of dollars from the state with the pitch it will help bring ‘good jobs’ to Rochester, but now they are talking about moving hundreds of good jobs to a less stable sub-contractor to help increase their profits,” said the president of the union local, SEIU Healthcare Minnesota.

No matter that Mayo doesn’t receive a penny from DMC — the unfair implication that Mayo “has been asking for tens of millions of dollars from the state” gets the job done for critics.

DFL legislators quickly chimed in. Rep. Mike Nelson, a DFLer from Brooklyn Park, told the Post Bulletin, “This whole thing stinks to me.” According to the PB story, he said Mayo’s actions regarding the food service vendor contradicted promises made when the Destination Medical Center initiative was approved by the Legislature in 2013.

Albert Lea fiasco

That protocol has been repeated in the dispute over the Mayo Clinic Health System clinic in Wabasha and now in Albert Lea, where MCHS announced plans to move about 20 inpatient beds to Austin, while growing other programs in Albert Lea. The community is understandably concerned; Mayo clearly failed to involve community leaders in advance and explain why the change is necessary. It’s been a textbook case of how not to proceed with a major hospital change in a small city.

Linking that decision to DMC, however, is over the top. In Albert Lea, it’s not only legislators who have referred to DMC in criticizing Mayo’s decision-making, it’s Dayton, whose lieutenant governor, Tina Smith, is chairwoman of the DMC Corp. board, and Attorney General Lori Swanson.

Among lawmakers who have most explicitly blasted Mayo by referring to DMC is District 27 Sen. Dan Sparks, of Austin: “I voted for the DMC funding and was very frustrated when the consolidation was announced. I did not expect expansion in Rochester and service reduction in Albert Lea. The DMC was advertised as good for the entire region — the decision to reduce services in Albert Lea appears like Mayo is going back on its word.”

That’s absurd and unfair. You can disagree with Mayo’s decisions, its regional strategy, even its taste in hospital food, but it’s ridiculous to invoke DMC and darkly hint that “Mayo is going back on its word” when it makes tough decisions regarding inpatient hospital care in Albert Lea.

Sparks’ comment also feeds the misperception that DMC is fueling Mayo expansion in Rochester while the clinic cuts services in places such as Albert Lea. Mayo’s challenge in the Albert Lea and Austin area is that it has two inpatient hospitals within 25 miles of each other. It has nothing to do with DMC and Rochester.

DMC isn’t charity to Mayo

For the record, DMC is a $5.6 billion economic development initiative that Mayo proposed — and that the Legislature and governor often celebrate — but it gives zero public dollars to the clinic, despite what people seem to believe. By strapping DMC to every decision that Mayo makes, public officials, union leaders and others contribute to this misconception.

A maximum of $424 million in state money will go to infrastructure, transportation and other public purposes over the next 20 years to accommodate Mayo’s explosive growth. The clinic expects to spend $3.5 billion during that period, and DMC is designed to help leverage billions more in private development.

The state of Minnesota didn’t approve DMC as a charitable act. The Legislature and Dayton got behind it because Mayo’s growth is indisputably good for the region and state. Minnesota is a partner with the clinic, the city and the county in promoting and planning for orderly, sustainable growth.

Maybe it’s inevitable that Mayo will be held to a new political standard because of DMC. That’s the nature of the Faustian bargain the clinic made. Some politically charged criticism would come Mayo’s way regardless of DMC.

But it’s unfair and counterproductive to view every decision the clinic makes through the lens of DMC.

Republished with permission.

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/13/2017 - 09:40 am.

    Tunnel vision strikes again

    While the author may be technically correct regarding some of the actual DMC funding, that super-tuned spotlight misses the point. The issue isn’t just DMC money. Mayo receives tens of millions of public dollars through a variety of conduits that they rarely if ever discuss. They receive direct NIH grants, they receive collaborative grants from the State, CDC, NIH, and a variety of sources attached to work they do with the U of M (and others). And then of course there is the $400 million they’re getting towards their effort to enhance Mayo’s appeal as a “Destination” Medical Center that attracts an affluent clientele of patients from around the world.

    Mayo likes to pretend it’s an world class private provider when making business decisions, and a quasi public provider when asking for public money. Whatever. The point is that the public investments in Mayo, be they DMC or otherwise, buy the public a voice at the table when Mayo makes “business” decisions that adversely affect the health care of patients. If Mayo doesn’t want to listen to those voices, they can give the money back.

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/13/2017 - 10:04 am.

    Just to flesh out the numbers…

    Mayo doesn’t receive tens of millions of public dollars for research, they get hundreds of millions, nearly $300 million of their $700 million research budget in fact is state and federal money. Then on top of that they got the $580 million for Rochester Mayo expansion. That’s pretty close to a billion dollars I reckon.

    Now Mayo uses that money to conduct some valuable research, but there’s no shortage of other destinations or applicants for research money, and Mayo isn’t doing anything that no one else could or would do. I’m not saying it doesn’t make sense to give that money to Mayo, it makes a lot of sense. But Mayo doesn’t get to take the money and then act like they’re a private business when they organize services.

    Here’s a link to Mayo’s 2016 research budget:

Leave a Reply