MARSHALL, Minn. – This isn’t exactly what you call putting patients first.
Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center is threatening to break a public promise by closing its popular Home Health Care program, which annually provides thousands of home nursing and wellness visits to many of Marshall’s 15,000 residents.
“We’re a small community. People here take care of one another,” says Val Buysse, a Registered Nurse who has spent more than 15 years working in Avera’s Home Care program. “Why would our town’s only hospital turn its back on the people who need its services most? Worse yet, why would they go back on their word when the program is doing so well?”
According to Avera Marshall’s own audited financial reports, the Home Health Care program turned a profit of more than $231,000 in 2008 and was also quite profitable in 2009.
In addition, Avera Marshall officials publicly stated time and again that the facility planned on continuing the Home Care program after South Dakota-based Avera bought out Marshall’s previous medical facility, Weiner Memorial Medical Center in 2009.
“I can’t tell you how many times in staff meetings with supervisors here that I was told Home Care was so important to Avera they’d continue to fund the program even if it wasn’t profitable,” Buysse says. “So why do you break your promise to our town and threaten to close up a program? I just don’t get it.”
Avera Marshall reported gross revenue of $63 million in 2008-09, and the current version of the Home Care program only employs four RNs – including Buysse – along with a handful of other healthcare workers and supervisors.
Statistics show the Home Care program is quite popular. For example, nurses averaged more than 450 at home visits each month during 2009, according to statistics obtained by the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA), which represents more than 20,000 RNs across the state.
“Our job is to look out for the needs of our patients, whether it’s at a large hospital in Minneapolis or in a smaller community such as Marshall,” says MNA President Linda Hamilton. “We’re not going to let hospitals put profits ahead of patients. And in this case, Avera already was profiting from this program. So it makes no sense to us why they would threaten to dismantle a thriving program that they publicly promised to provide the community.”
For her part, Buysse is hoping her employer has a change of heart.
“Home Care means so much to so many of our residents,” she says. “Closing it would have a devastating impact on our community. I just can’t stand to see it happen.”