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Mayo Clinic going to Mall of America

  • Article by: CHEN MAY YEE
  • Star Tribune
  • June 18, 2009 - 8:46 AM

In a move that could shake up the Twin Cities health care market, Mayo Clinic said Wednesday that it plans an outpost amid the roller coasters, restaurants and retailers as the Mall of America expands into a second phase.

Mayo officials said they haven't decided what services the site will offer, but said they could include diagnostic screenings, wellness counseling and other services that might direct patients to the home campus in Rochester.

"The Mall of America provides a tremendous opportunity to provide a gateway to services we provide and a platform for innovation," said Dr. Glenn Forbes, CEO of Mayo Clinic Rochester, adding: "It's not our intention to replicate what we're doing in Rochester."

The new facility might, for example, offer telemedicine consultations and organize logistics for international patients. But it will not offer routine primary care such as treating sore throats and broken bones.

At a news conference on Wednesday attended by Mall officials and Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Mayo executives said they plan to spend the next 12 months deciding the nature of the facility and the size of their investment. There is no opening date as yet.

Twin Cities hospital and clinic chains such as Allina, Fairview and Park Nicollet compete vigorously for patients in specialty care. Should they be worried?

"I would say a little bit," said Allan Baumgarten, an independent Twin Cities health care analyst. "Although most people have longstanding relationships with their doctors, we are going into a time when people are paying more and more out of their own pocket either because they have lost coverage or have high deductibles.

"This gives someone with a brand name like Mayo an opportunity to say 'Don't think of Mayo being 90 miles away. Think of Mayo as being at the Mall of America.' There's a portal there that could lead to the renowned Mayo Clinic."

On Wednesday, as families thronged in the Nickelodeon theme park and teenagers browsed through blouses at Forever 21, the scene at the mall was a far cry from the elegant medical complex that is Mayo in Rochester.

The coming together of one of the most famous medical centers in the world and one of the most famous malls is at once incongruous and inevitable. The mall gets 40 million visitors a year, many of them international. Mayo gets a half-million patients a year, with a small but high-profile percentage coming from abroad.

From the perspective of the state's economy, both have a "magnetic quality" that bring talent, visitors and investment to Minnesota, Pawlenty said.

Besides Mayo, a Marriot Hotel and a water park have signed on to the second phase of the Mall of America expansion. However, the mall's owners have struggled to get financing for the project.

The century-old Mayo has taken bold steps to expand in the past. Since the late 1980s, it has opened branches in Jacksonville, Fla., and Scottdale, Az. It has also bought primary care clinics and hospitals in southern Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin to create Mayo Health System, which sends a steady stream of patients to Rochester for high-end specialty care.

This latest initiative comes at a time when Mayo is struggling financially.

Last year, Mayo barely broke even as expenses raced ahead of revenue. Gifts from benefactors were down and the clinic, like other organizations, suffered big investment losses.

Although Mayo treated about 526,000 patients last year, about the same as the year earlier, income from patient care was down significantly because more of them were Medicare patients. Medicare pays less than private insurers for the same procedures.

Chen May Yee • 612-673-7434

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