A Minnesota congressman is hoping that "facilitated" talks between Mayo Clinic and community leaders can soothe a bitter dispute over the future of the hospital in Albert Lea.

Leaders in the southern Minnesota city formed a Save Our Hospital campaign this year after Mayo announced it would relocate inpatient surgery, intensive care and baby deliveries to Austin, and inpatient mental health care to Albert Lea. While that swap started this month, U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., said he hopes the two sides can still have productive talks.

"I am pleased that Albert Lea and Mayo Clinic have agreed to discuss the future of health care in Albert Lea," Walz said Friday.

Mayo's leaders have argued that realigning services between the Austin and Albert Lea facilities — which technically are licensed as a single hospital — is necessary to keep both viable and to create larger departments that will aide in recruiting doctors.

Rural hospitals nationwide have struggled due to changes in demographics and health care financing, and a recent University of Minnesota analysis found that 179 had stopped performing scheduled childbirths between 2004 and 2014.

Albert Lea leaders have pursued an independent financial analysis to determine if Mayo's moves are necessary. While the hospital will retain outpatient services and gain inpatient mental health services under Mayo's plan, civic leaders fear the loss of such hallmark services as obstetrics and the economic impact of doctors moving out of town.

Talks should start later this month, said Kathleen Harrington, Mayo's director of government relations, adding that they will focus on future health care improvements and not on the current realignment. "We are the largest private employer in the community," she said, "and we are committed to staying there."