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Mayor Pete Pedersen remains concerned about M Fairview Health Services' decision to close the Milaca clinic and pharmacy the first week in December.

Fairview is shutting down 16 of its clinics and five pharmacies by year’s end as part of a series of cuts announced in early October.

Over the last two months, city officials have said they have received little communication about the closures.

The last two Milaca City Council agendas list a Fairview update as business items.

Pedersen brought a thick file to the Nov. 12 Milaca City Council meeting. The file contained old Fairview Milaca Hospital board records.

Pedersen said during the council’s Nov. 12 special meeting he had reviewed those records, and would have City Attorney Damien Toven do the same.

The Minnesota Department of Health maintains a cost information system that includes a list of state hospitals that have closed.

Within those records, Fairview Milaca Hospital shows a closure date of Nov. 11, 1991, with Fairview Health Services being listed as an affiliate.

“We have to get the community involved,” Pedersen said, referring to the impact of losing locally based clinic health care and pharmacy services. “I would like to get a committee of community members together to go over some of this.”

Looking back at the records he had in hand, Pedersen said Fairview took over the hospital lease on Aug. 1, 1986. The hospital board dissolved on March 6, 2012. A purchase agreement and lease termination occurred on Sept. 11, 2012, he said.

“There are different things in the agreements that address what could be done with the clinic building,” Pedersen said. “I want Damien to check this before I make a statement. We should get the community involved and get surveys out because I’m still getting calls about this.”

Pedersen asked City Manager Tammy Pfaff for her comments and thoughts about establishing a community committee.

Pfaff said the city could put up a website notice asking residents to get involved.

“Don’t we need to find out what’s happening first?” asked Council Member Dave Dillan. “Is there building going to be our building? We need to know.”

Pedersen replied the issue involved a commitment to providing local health care.

“I have people telling me they are going other directions to get care,” Pedersen said. “As a council, we have to make sure our citizens have the best health care they can get, and transportation to health care.”

Pedersen pushed for establishing a local committee. Pfaff cautioned it would be best to first gauge overall interest.

Michelle Stevens-Brioschi, vice president of operations for M Health Fairview’s Northwest Region, responded to questions about the Milaca closures.

“The Milaca clinic has been serving the community for many years, and we’re committed to providing ongoing care to each of our patients through this transition,” Stevens-Brioschi stated Wednesday in an email to the Union-Times.

The decision to close the Milaca clinic was carefully considered to optimize Fairview’s clinic footprint, improve access to primary care, and improve affordability for all patients, Stevens-Brioschi said, adding Fairview is confident its more than 40 remaining clinic and primary care locations, and virtual and ambulatory care services, will offer more specialty services and appointments at –in formats that promote easier, quicker access to more cost-effective care.

COVID-19 accelerated many of these changes as Fairview met the need to offer virtual care for many of our patients earlier in the pandemic. The Milaca clinic building will officially close on Dec. 4, though the clinic has been operating as a virtual care site to reduce community spread of COVID-19. The pharmacy has remained operational through this time and will close Dec. 1, she added.

“All four of our Milaca providers will be moving to the M Health Fairview Clinic - Princeton along with most of the clinic’s non-provider staff. The Princeton clinic will gain two more providers from our Zimmerman clinic," Stevens-Brioschi said.

Clinic staff have been provided an opportunity to stay within the Fairview system.

The Princeton clinic provides the full span of primary care including pediatrics and internal medicine along with multiple specialties including obstetrics, mental health therapy, cardiology, diabetes care, medication therapy management and surgical services.

It shares a campus with M Health Fairview Northland Medical Center, which offers inpatient and emergency department care and lab and radiology services that are more robust than what has existed for years in Milaca.

In response to the pandemic, the Milaca clinic moved to offer only virtual care services to do its part to reduce possible COVID-19 spread in the community, Stevens-Brioschi said. Patient preference had driven that type of appointment throughout the pandemic and will continue to through the current transition.

“Patients who required or preferred in-person visits have been accessing their care at the Princeton clinic. Our entire system, including primary care, has been working to make virtual care easier and more efficient for patients,” she said.

Fairview has ownership of the Milaca clinic building, and long-term plans for the site are under consideration, Stevens-Brioschi told the Union-Times.

"Our care coordination and social work department will continue to work with patients to identify options for transportation to our Princeton clinic and other sites that are unique to their situation and based on need,” she said.

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