The St. Paul City Council stepped Monday into an ongoing battle over the future of two downtown hospitals.
M Health Fairview leaders disclosed cost-cutting plans late last year that could close St. Joseph’s Hospital and eliminate nearly half the beds at Bethesda Hospital, one of two federally designated long-term care hospitals in the state. Doctors, patients and unions representing health care workers have raised alarms, saying the capital city — and the state — can’t afford to lose hospital beds.
The City Council is expected to pass a resolution Wednesday opposing cuts and calling for “full transparency” from the Fairview board and CEO James Hereford.
“We cannot lose the services that are provided at St. Joe’s and Bethesda hospitals,” Council Member Rebecca Noecker, who represents downtown and gave birth to both of her sons at St. Joseph’s, said at a news conference at City Hall Monday. “They are absolutely critical to everything that we are trying to do in downtown St. Paul — the services, the jobs and what it means for our community.”
Noecker appeared alongside Council Members Dai Thao and Jane Prince, and representatives of the Minnesota Nurses Association. While the City Council has no control over the hospital system, Thao, the resolution’s lead author, said the council is expressing its values and concerns.
“These hospitals, these facilities, have been in the community for such a long time, and the community has relied on it, and suddenly it’s not there anymore and we weren’t even at the table,” he said. “We want fairness. We want to be at the table. We want to be part of the solution.”
In a statement, Fairview said it “shares the City Council’s commitment to improving the health of St. Paul residents, and has been seeking to address many of these challenges through our engagement and transformation work,” including meeting with more than 100 stakeholder groups and partnering with the nonprofit Open Cities Health Center, which serves low-income, uninsured and underinsured patients.
Fairview is down to 50 beds at Bethesda, from a total of 89, and has laid off 340 people throughout its system.
The cuts are already reverberating across the state, Minnesota Nurses Association President Mary Turner said at the news conference. About a dozen nurses stood behind her, carrying signs that read “Patients before profits” and “We want you to have health care.”
“I’ve been all over the state — I’ve been as far as Duluth, all the way down to Mankato — and this is resonating among the nurses all over the state,” Turner said.
“They are going, ‘What the heck? There is no way we can do without Bethesda and there is no way we can do without those hundred psych beds at St. Joe’s, and all of the other care that they give.’ ”
Noecker said she and Council Member Chris Tolbert met with Fairview leaders Wednesday, and that Mayor Melvin Carter has been involved as well.
“The mayor and the council have all been really clear that we want to be part of this conversation,” she said.
“We don’t want to be learning about things after the fact.”