By Robb Murray
Free Press Staff Writer
ST PETER — Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato CEO Greg Kutcher said Friday the claims of unfair business practices made by River’s Edge Hospital in St. Peter are baseless and hurtful to the people who work at Mayo’s St. Peter Clinic.
In an article in Thursday’s Free Press, River’s Edge CEO Colleen Spike said Mayo had gone astray. She shared a letter she’d written to the state attorney general asking for an investigation into Mayo’s practices. She claimed patients have been falsely told the hospital is full when it wasn’t, and that patients were being told that River’s Edge can’t or won’t perform certain procedures, such as mammograms or ultrasounds.
But Kutcher said Spike’s claims lack substance. Not once, he said, has Spike or anyone else at River’s Edge ever come to them to discuss specific claims. Not once, he said, has Spike asked Kutcher for help in addressing a patient’s complaints about being told the hospital is full or that mammograms aren’t done in St. Peter.
Kutcher said the ill will has been festering for several years. In one case where a concern was brought up, Kutcher said the example made a better case for not referring a patient to River’s Edge.
The issued concerned a patient with diabetic ketoacidosis, a complicated and serious condition. Mayo doctors urged the patient be treated at the hospital in Mankato where they have an intensive care unit.
Kutcher said Spike suggested the transfer recommendation was unnecessary and part of Mayo’s efforts to channel patients away from River’s Edge.
“No family physician would want to treat that when you have a specialized hospital 12 miles away,” he said.
Treating that patient in St. Peter, Kutcher said, would be unsafe and he’s not willing to risk patient safety for the sake of keeping people in beds at River’s Edge.
Liz Osborne, a doctor at Mayo Clinic in St. Peter, said one part of the previous article she took issue with was Spike’s claim that a friend of hers, who happens to be a Mayo patient, had been lied to regarding the scheduling of an ultrasound.
Spike said the woman had been told River’s Edge doesn’t perform ultrasounds, and when the woman asked Spike if she’d been lied to, she said “Yes.”
“We have not lied to any patients,” Osborne said.
One thing they do admit is a desire to keep patients, in certain situations, in the Mayo system.
For example, when it comes to mammograms, Kutcher said Mayo has reasons for wanting mammography to be done at Mayo facilities. In the Mayo system, they can do a mammogram and, while a woman waits, a Mayo radiologist can look over the digital images. Then, if the scan reveals something that needs follow-up, they take care of it immediately instead of making a woman wait days or even weeks between having a mammogram and getting an answer about results.
“No one would ever tell a patient they can’t get a mammogram in St. Peter,” Osborne said. Instead, Kutcher added, they tell patients how Mayo does things and let the patients decided for themselves.
As for the suggestion that Mayo is interested in removing River’s Edge from the field of competition, Kutcher called the claim baseless. He said that if Mayo was truly interested in shutting down River’s Edge, they wouldn’t have spent $5 million to have their clinic inside the River’s Edge complex.
Ultimately, Kutcher said Mayo isn’t obligated to send any patients to River’s Edge Hospital. Mayo is a business, he said, and has every right to protects its business interests.
But Mayo has also been in St. Peter for 80 years and is a part of the community, Kutcher said. The doctors and nurses and staff live in the community and they have no interest in souring the relationship with the hospital.
Plus, employing a practice where referrals are done within the system makes more sense for Mayo financially, he said. And that’s important in a time when the landscape of health care is changing dramatically.
“We’ve always known we’re going to have to do more in health care with less money,” Kutcher said. “Now it’s happening.”
The status of the attorney general’s involvement remains unknown. They haven’t responded to The Free Press, but Spike said they’ve contacted her twice requesting more information. Kutcher said Mayo has not been contacted by the attorney general’s office.