Council members push back against hospital cuts

Council Member Rebecca Noecker, whose ward includes St. Joseph’s Hospital, called Fairview’s proposal to close the hospital “heartbreaking” during a City Hall press conference yesterday.

Standing alongside nurses from Bethesda and St. Joseph’s yesterday, three St. Paul City Council members called on Fairview to reconsider steep cuts at the downtown hospitals and, instead, partner with the community in preserving care for St. Paul’s urban core.

“The services, the jobs and what it means for our community – we cannot do without them in downtown,” said Rebecca Noecker, whose second ward includes St. Joseph’s.

Fairview confirmed in December it is weighing several proposals to cut costs, and permanently closing St. Joe’s, the state’s oldest hospital, is among them.

At nearby Bethesda, Fairview already has moved to cut the facility’s admissions capacity from 90 to 50 beds.

Together, the proposed cuts amount to an “abandonment of the central city,” Council Member Jane Prince said, adding that Fairview executives “have to answer” for “a very serious decision that they are making to walk away from downtown St. Paul.”

To that end, Prince, Noecker and Dai Thao, whose first ward includes Bethesda, plan to introduce a resolution at the council meeting tomorrow opposing the hospital cuts, and demanding Fairview be more transparent and inclusive of community leaders in whatever service reductions play out at the facilities.

At a press conference inside City Hall yesterday, council members did not mask their frustration with Fairview’s failure to engage community leaders before announcing the proposed cuts. Thao said he learned what was happening from media reports in December.

“This is not acceptable,” Thao said. “When health care corporations make decisions without the community being a part of it, we know it’s not about delivering care. We know it’s about delivering profits.”

Antoinette Fiagbedzi, a nurse at Bethesda, calls out Fairview for putting profits before patients.

Noecker acknowledged “systemic issues” facing Fairview, like limited access to quality health insurance and mental-health treatment, but said Fairview executives have so far ignored offers to work collaboratively toward solutions that benefit the provider and the community.

“We are all standing around holding this safety net together, and we cannot have one of our critical partners unilaterally drop their side of the safety net and walk away from that conversation,” Noecker said. “We all need to stay in it together to solve these issues.”

The Minnesota Nurses Association, which represents nurses at both Bethesda and St. Joseph’s, has begun negotiations with Fairview to ensure layoffs are handled according to the union contract, MNA President Mary Turner said.

But Turner warned the cuts at Bethesda, one of only two long-term rehabilitation hospitals in Minnesota, won’t just be felt by hospital staff. Closing St. Joseph’s, which devotes 100 of its beds to inpatient mental-health care and serves the city’s high-poverty neighborhoods, would expand the ripple effect even further.

“There is no way we can do without Bethesda and no way we can do without those 100 phychiatric beds in St. Joe’s,” Turner said.

Nurses at the press conference questioned Fairview’s decision to put care for the most vulnerable members of the community on the chopping block when the nonprofit health system sits on hundreds of millions of dollars in hedge fund and other financial investments – and recently raised CEO James Hereford’s pay to $913 an hour.

“Health care is not about if you have income or not,” Bethesda nurse Antoinette Fiagbedzi said. “When you care about people, you don’t think about their income. You don’t think of whether they have insurance or not. You do it out of love.

“That’s what we stand for, that’s what my colleagues stand for.”

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