Health care giants swarm over Scott County

  • Article by: DAVID PETERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 30, 2011 - 7:15 PM

Allina, Fairview and Mayo are all on the move, targeting several cities in the county.

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Rendering of Fairview’s planned primary-care clinic and Institute for Athletic Medicine, to open in February.

Photo: , Photo provided by Fairview Health Services

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It might seem like curious timing, considering that Scott County's growth spurt has been over for years.

But the Big Three of Minnesota medicine are all making major moves within its borders from the south, west and east, with clinics as chess pieces.

Only one of the three will openly confess that it's doing anything as un-high-minded as competing, or capturing market share.

"For us it's how do you get into a market and establish a presence," said Suzan Ford, administrator of Fairview's Lakeville Clinic, RidgeValley Clinic in Prior Lake and its new Savage Clinic. "How do you make a presence before you lose that market share?"

Fairview is one of the big three among provider groups, meaning hospitals and clinics, along with Allina and the Mayo Clinic. They're all moving at precisely the same moment to expand their presence within the county. In Mayo's case, it's right across the southern metro, from the Mall of America in Bloomington down to Northfield and westward into Scott and beyond.

Mayo insists it's "not competing," and Allina half-denies it. Asked whether all these moves amount to a simple play for business much like Wal-Mart or any other business, Deann Wagner, vice president for finance of Allina's clinic and community division, replied:

"I don't think it's a simple 'yes' as to [a quest for] market share."

The moves all seem a delayed reaction, considering that they come years after the county's hyperboom ended. Jordan, for instance, where Allina-partnered St. Francis Regional Medical Center is considering a new clinic, averaged 74 new housing units annually during its boom years, from the late 1990s through 2007. But growth has plummeted to just a fraction of that rate, fewer than 10 units in the years since then, according to Metropolitan Council data.

That doesn't mean there isn't any appreciable growth or need for health care, though. The state health department reports that all those previous move-ins of young families are yielding births on the order of roughly 2,000 a year, and that public school classroom numbers county-wide are rising by about 600 students a year.

Moreover, the county has been rated as medically under-served. The County Health Rankings project of the University of Wisconsin (www.countyhealthrankings.org) places its ratio of population to primary-care doctors at more than 800 to 1, well over the national benchmark of 631 to 1 and the statewide figure of 636 to 1.

"Our information indicates the same, that the county is under-served and there was a need," Wagner said. "That was one factor" in the opening of a new medical building this summer in Savage, "though not the only factor. Two other site leases were expiring and we didn't have space at those sites to grow. We needed different space."

Rochester-based Mayo, meanwhile, in addition to signalling plans for a new facility in the Mall of America's second phase, recently acquired the former Queen of Peace Hospital in New Prague, together with branch clinics in Belle Plaine, in Scott County, and Le Sueur and Montgomery, in adjoining Le Sueur County. In July it opened a cancer treatment center in Northfield.

Officials at Mayo say that's it for now at least -- but even so, it's a lot.

At the grand opening of their megamall space -- they say it's not a clinic -- Mayo officials demonstrated how the computerized kiosks dispense wellness advice tailored to the kiosk customer's typed-in data and questions.

"This is a totally new concept," said John La Forgia, Mayo's chief marketing officer, standing near the kiosks and a wellness product sales display. "The point is not to see how much money we can make but to see what people need."

Is Mayo's global brand making its south-metro competitors nervous? Are they highly conscious of the potential threat?

"Well, conscious certainly, I don't know if I'd say 'highly'," said Ford. "When you look at Fairview's affiliation with the University of Minnesota, our being able to collaborate with the U for specialty medicine makes Fairview a real competitor in the market. We get patients from Mayo who didn't feel their needs were met, or their system was so huge; so everyone's experience can be different."

Two powerhouse affiliations, then: What does Allina offer in its quest for patient loyalty?

"Interesting timing for you to ask that," Wagner said. "We're in the midst of a branding strategy process that we're rolling out soon -- not tomorrow, but soon. It's hard to say today what the key words will be, but we try to set ourselves apart by providing excellent care coordination from the start -- preventive care -- to the end -- senior care, hospice care. It's patient-centered."

Wagner stressed that although Allina partners with Shakopee-based St. Francis, that institution also partners with others, and the Jordan venture is not Allina's per se, though she assumes Allina is the market leader in the county at this point.

One reason health care giants sometimes cringe at empire-building suggestions is that critics say the cost of everyone installing fancy equipment all over the place ends up coming out of the patient's wallet, whether or not it serves the patient's interest.

But Ford argues it does serve their interest.

"We'll put in digital radiography because it's faster turnaround for doctors and patients, who get results immediately," she said. "It allows providers to get results within minutes and they can communicate that before the patient even leaves the building. Doctors love it, and patients know the plan and the next step before they leave their appointment."

Allina's official announcement called its facility "Savage's first medical building where imaging, medical visits and procedures and physical therapy are performed in one convenient location."

Staff writer Jim Adams also contributed to this article.

David Peterson • 952-882-9023

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