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Rochester businesses worry over economic future amid Mayo, legislature deadlock

The Mayo Clinic said it would reinvest billions of dollars into other states if two bills pass the legislature this session that tackle staffing and health costs.

ROCHESTER, Minn. — It's day three of a nurse sit-in at the Capitol and two dozen of them say they'll stay there until Governor Tim Walz passes safe staffing legislation. 

They're supporting two bills that address staffing levels and tackle rising health care costs and retention. 

But Mayo Clinic argues the bills create an inefficient bureaucracy that would severely limit their flexibility to hire the staff they need and invest in new equipment and technology. It has since threatened to reinvest billions of dollars in other states.

"They exist to the best health care center in the world — and by all accounts they are — and in terms of getting to that status, they have to manage their own organization," said former State Senator Dave Senjem, who's now an Olmsted County Commissioner. "The idea that a legislative body would begin to suggest to them how to run nursing staff or what their fee structure should be is frankly out of reach in terms of acceptability."

Mayo hasn't made note of any specific project, only saying it would reconsider its plans if the bills pass. That warning now has businesses, from agriculture to manufacturing, paying close attention.

"But clearly health care drives this local economy," said Rochester Area Economic Development, Inc. President John Wade. "In addition to the practice of medicine, we also create a lot of businesses around medicine that want to be here to be a part of the practice."

Wade says losing that much money would be significant to the city's future and remains hopeful the sides can find a solution. 

"Not only for Rochester's good, but certainly the state of Minnesota and indeed the U.S. economy, as well," said Wade.

Mayo may be homed in Rochester, but it's also expanding its campuses in Florida and Arizona, as well as building in London and Abu Dhabi.

If those billions of dollars go elsewhere, so too, could the city's flagship status, something Senjem calls irreplaceable.

"They can move that investment, that's easily done, and they can grow their practice in a larger sense in other locations," said Senjem. "The place where Mayo will then grow and advance into the future."

Eight years ago, the state approved and committed nearly $585 million to help Rochester invest in future infrastructure. Mayo contributed another $934 million. It's all part of a 20-year plan to make the city a destination medical center - that now could also be in jeopardy.

The nurses union, though, says the bills include reforms that are long overdue, calling Mayo's response corporate bullying.

But 62 leaders from every nonprofit hospital in the state have since signed a letter, telling lawmakers the bills are detrimental.

"This heavy-handed bureaucratic way to set staffing, to have arbitration and lawyers deciding how we should provide care, that is going to be damaging to the health care system we are so proud of in Minnesota," said Minnesota Hospital Association's President Dr. Rahul Koranne.

Dr. Koranne says the MHA is focusing instead on loan forgiveness and recruitment to fill the 5,500 open nursing positions, adding only 20% of those who are working are in the union. 

"I know that’s not what are nurses want, I’ve worked with nurses for almost 30 years," said Dr. Koranne. "We are part of the same team, this is about what the union is saying."

No matter what happens, the outcome will likely change the way we know health care well into the future.

"This is a bellwether moment in the history of Mayo Clinic and I hope the legislature and the governor think this thing through a little bit and find a solution," said Senjem. 

The bills have passed both the House and Senate and are now in committee where the two sides will hash out any differences. They have to come to an agreement and vote on that, which then goes to the governor for his signature — all of which has to happen before the end of the session on May 22.


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