My wife and I were into the fourth Downton Abbey of the night when the call came: “We’re losing her. It could be tonight or tomorrow, but she’s puffing up; organs are shutting down.” I teared up as my best friend was doing the same on the other end of the phone. His mom was in many ways a mom to me when we were kids.
Twelve hours later I was at her bedside, along with my friend and one of his three brothers. Things had turned around; organs were coming back, blood pressure returning, heart starting to beat regularly again, while dosages of life-sustaining drugs were coming down. This, after an eight-hour heart surgery two days earlier that involved two cardiac arrests and subsequent lengthy rounds of CPR. The young doctor giving us the positive news added that her ribs might be sore, possibly cracked from the CPR. “Cracked ribs hurt like crazy,” he added. My friend, leaning on a crutch, nodded with weary understanding. Only four months earlier he had broken nine ribs, six vertebrae, his pelvis, and his scapula after the motorcycle he was on crashed into the back of a suddenly stopped SUV.
We walked into the waiting area to meet up with rest of the family so the doctor could share the update and answer questions. Most pleased by his report, of course, was the patient’s husband who, coincidentally, was at this same hospital a year earlier after he had suffered two strokes, had two brain surgeries, and came within minutes of having life support unplugged because of a terrible prognosis at the time. As he and the doctor talked, I realized how cool this was: Here were three family members who within 12 months had nearly died, but instead made miraculous turnarounds due to the health care they received.
We all have had experiences with hospitals, births, and deaths, through those we love or (except for deaths), directly. I have a dozen more stories like these I could share, and the point of all of them would be to reflect for a moment on how fortunate we are to have the top-notch, abundant, and accessible health care that we do. There’s so much talk about what’s wrong with health care; let’s remember how much is right with it, too.
The other reason I tell this story is because it represents the incredible care by providers we rarely hear praised in the media: Regions Hospital in St. Paul (where my friend received care), and North Memorial in Minneapolis (his mom and stepdad). From the admissions desk and volunteers helping visitors find their way to friendly, knowledgeable, and efficient nurses and physicians tending to patients in a truly caring manner, they’re hitting the mark.
It turns out I’m not alone in thinking this way. North Memorial and Regions are two out of four Twin Cities area hospitals to be ranked in the top 5 percent of hospitals nationwide by Healthgrades, an independent firm helping health care consumers make informed choices. The others are Abbott Northwestern and Unity Hospital. The only other hospitals in Minnesota making this list were St. Luke’s Hospital in Duluth and Mayo Clinic Saint Marys Hospital in Rochester. These six are among a group of 262 hospitals nationwide to make the grade; 4,500 hospitals were evaluated in the process.
I know Hennepin County Medical Center, Fairview Southdale, Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, and others provide great care, too. But I spotlight North Memorial and Regions because they rank among the very best in the nation (along with Mayo Saint Marys) and they make fewer mistakes. Mayo Clinic St. Marys had more adverse health events last year per surgical procedure than did North Memorial or Regions, according to the Adverse Health Events in Minnesota report from the Minnesota Department of Health.
Given this, wouldn’t it be just as fair for the state to provide financial support to North Memorial Health Care and Regions (along with its HealthPartners parent organization), as it is now considering for the Mayo Clinic?
At the end of January, Mayo asked the state to consider investing more than $500 million to help expand its operations in Rochester in the next 20 years. Specifically, the state would create a special taxing district around Mayo’s Rochester campus to generate upward of $30 million a year in taxpayer dollars that would be used for infrastructure needs such as parking, transportation, and property redevelopment to make the area a more pleasant place to work, live, and visit. In return, Mayo would invest upward of $5.5 billion to expand and create thousands of new jobs.
Granted, Mayo is Minnesota’s largest private employer (33,500 jobs) and is a world leader in health care research and services. Its presence is more than just appreciated for its contribution to our state’s economy and position as a worldwide leader in health care. We need to do whatever we can—sensibly—to support it. However, this is not the Mayo of yesteryear: Decades ago it was primarily a research institution. Today, Mayo owns hospitals, has partnerships with other hospitals, and is considered a competitive threat by providers throughout the state. And it isn’t the only industry jewel in our health care crown: HealthPartners is the largest consumer-governed, nonprofit health care organization in the nation.
The idea of supporting additional growth in the health care sector is worth considering. It’s just a matter of figuring out how, for whom, and why exactly.
An exclusive arrangement with Mayo, for example, could perhaps involve the state becoming an investor in Mayo, and in return, Mayo training and education programs becoming part of the baccalaureate and graduate health care curriculum available through the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. Another approach could be to create the special taxing district for Mayo, but also do the same around all Minnesota health care providers that have proven they, too, are among the best in the nation.
Either way, state leaders need to remember that while Mayo is the largest and most visible provider, Minnesota taxpayers are more often cared for by other organizations doing just as well, if not better, at providing services and employing highly talented workforces in their communities.