Sweeping changes underway and on the table at Fairview Health Services are causing worries throughout the Twin Cities. People with disabilities and their advocacy groups are speaking out, including attending a protest in St. Paul in December.
Fairview in late 2019 announced major cuts, including closure of an inpatient substance-abuse treatment program for the deaf and hard of hearing that is housed within the University of Minnesota Medical Center in Minneapolis. It is part of a broader plan by Fairview to rein in costs and address a multimillion-dollar budget deficit. Other cuts include scaling down the Bethesda long-term care hospital and the potential closure of St. Joseph’s Hospital, both in St. Paul.
Fairview said in a statement that patients who are deaf or hard of hearing will still have access to inpatient substance abuse treatment, with support from interpreters. The program had also seen declining enrollment, serving only 16 patients this year.
A key component of that deal is Fairview’s pledge to increase payments to the U for medical research, funds that must come either from increased clinical revenue or budget savings.
Deaf and hard of hearing patients aren’t alone in opposing Fairview’s downsizing, which is coming as the health system and the U launch their new M Health Fairview brand of hospital and clinic care.
Supporters of St. Joseph’s Hospital in downtown St. Paul are worried about possible changes and even closure there. The hospital, where significant mental health care and substance use disorder care takes place, is Minnesota’s oldest hospital.
“I think it’s unfortunate because I think St. Joe’s serves a lot of people,” said Ashlee Herget, who works for Minnesota Recovery Connection, visiting patients in chemical dependency crisis.
James Hereford, CEO of Fairview Health Services, said he doesn’t yet know what changes will come to St. Joseph’s. But he added: “Our commitment to St. Paul is absolute.”
He hopes to have a restructuring framework in place by early next year. He said no changes will be made without community input.
But he also said that the health system is facing an $80 million net loss this year and that administrators are looking at numerous options systemwide to address the shortfall. He said the goal is to deliver needed care as efficiently as possible.
Fairview is the largest provider of addiction and mental health services in Minnesota. St. Joseph’s has more than 100 beds dedicated to mental health patients. The prospect of losing even one of those beds alarms Sue Abderholden, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Minnesota.
“We don’t have enough intensive resources, and so for the board to close down or even consider closing down this many beds for our system, it’s just not OK,” she said. “It’s really going to hurt people.”
Fairview already has announced plans to cut almost half the beds at its Bethesda long-term care hospital. The reduction from 89 to 50 beds will have ripple effects across the state because Bethesda is one of only two federally designated long-term care hospitals (LTCHs) in Minnesota that provide extended rehabilitation and care to patients after they are treated at general acute hospitals.
Bethesda will now provide that extended care to patients transferred from other hospitals in the Fairview system, such as the University of Minnesota Medical Center, but it will no longer accept patients from other hospital systems except in emergencies.
Typical LTCH patients include those who are still on ventilators but have stabilized while in intensive care at general hospitals, or who are slowly recovering after hospital treatment of strokes or traumatic brain injuries. About 80 percent are funded by the federal Medicare program for the elderly or the federal-state Medicaid program for the poor and disabled — making it especially affected by changes or cuts to these programs.
Fairview on Friday [December 6] notified 340 workers at Bethesda and other locations that their jobs were being eliminated. Some will be transferred.
Bethesda has existed as a hospital in some form in St. Paul since 1883.
(Sources: Minneapolis Star Tribune, Pioneer Press, Minnesota Public Radio)