Faced with losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic, M Health Fairview has decided to cut 900 jobs and close 16 of its 56 local primary care clinics. One of those clinics is Columbia Park Clinic, 4000 Central Avenue NE. It will shut its doors Dec. 4, turning Northeast and Columbia Heights into a “health care desert,” in the words of one upset patient.
According to recent reports, M Health Fairview, a network comprised of Fairview Hospitals, the University of Minnesota and University of Minnesota Physicians, lost $163 million in the first half of 2020 because of costs related to COVID-19. It expects to lose $225-250 million by the end of the year.
Columbia Park Clinic has served Northeast, Columbia Heights and St. Anthony families in its present location for 34 years. Before that, it was located at 3651 Central (where Wings Financial is today) and at 3620 Central.
Twenty-three health professionals are on staff; eight of them practice family medicine. Built in 1986, the 37,000 sq.-ft. building houses a pharmacy as well. The pharmacy will close Dec. 1.
A statement from the company reads, “Some of our primary and specialty-care sites are underutilized. In several cases, we are operating below capacity at clinics only a mile or two away from one another. Our physical footprint isn’t aligned with a health system that is increasingly driven on integrated primary and specialty care, and quickly evolving to embrace virtual care. An inefficient physical footprint adds to our overhead, increases the cost of care, and passes those costs along to consumers.”
Asked if patients would be referred to other Fairview clinics, the spokesperson responded, “We believe our more than 40 clinics and primary care locations, as well as other virtual and ambulatory care services, will successfully meet our communities’ needs for primary and specialty care. The M Health Fairview clinics at Brooklyn Park [10000 Zane Ave N], Fridley [6341 University Ave NE], and New Brighton [1151 Silver Lake Rd NW], will remain open in the surrounding areas.”
She said patients had been notified online via Fairview’s MyChart app and by letters sent to their homes.
According to Fairview.org, the remaining primary care clinics will be open longer hours and offer more advanced primary care services. Fairview will also expand its virtual care services, so that patients need not leave home to consult a physician.
M Health Fairview will also establish “specialty hubs” that will bring practitioners of several medical specialties together in strategically placed facilities throughout the metro area. The website offers the example of a patient who needs a follow-up to a mammogram. She would be able to consult with a radiologist during the same visit, at the same location.
The Fairview administrative office at 2849 Johnson Street will remain open for the time being.
While M Health Fairview did not come forward with a lot of details, long-term Columbia Park patients were not shy about expressing their opinions.
Mary Youso Dugdale, who works for the Columbia Heights Police Department responded to a query on the Northeaster Facebook page. “I am upset about this change as it is happening so fast without information,” she wrote.
Mary Granlund, Columbia Heights, wrote, “I have been a patient there for nearly 20 years. My children see their doctors there as well. I have our medications filled in the pharmacy, where they take really amazing care of us. My family will follow wherever our doctors go, however, that’s not a possibility for most patients. This clinic is on the corner and across from a major transit line. Many people are able to walk to the clinic and see their providers. It’s accessible.
“But (as I was told by a provider there last week), the VPs have said that our clinic doesn’t have the right ‘payor mix,’ meaning that there are too many people who have public health insurance that are using the Columbia Heights clinic. So, because health care is a commodity rather than a right, the higher-ups at Fairview have decided to close our clinic and contribute to the health care desert of Northeast Minneapolis and Heights.” [Payor means the party that pays for the insurance.] Judy Sommerfeld, Audubon Park, concurred. “I’m upset. I will follow my primary Dr. Schoonover to whichever clinic she transfers to. I am fortunate to be mobile and I can transport myself to a new clinic but I’m upset for those patients that are going to have difficulties with this. Along with finding a new pharmacy. Kim and the other pharmacy staff are the best I’ve ever dealt with. I’m upset for the staff also.”
Said Granlund, “We’ve had medical providers in Heights for almost 100 years and in that building for nearly 65 years. This is a devastating loss for our community.”
Other health care options in our area:
Axis Family Clinic, 3638 Central Avenue, offers same-day appointments as well as telehealth services. They accept all public and most private insurance plans, and offer sliding scale discounts for people who don’t have insurance.
Hennepin Healthcare, 2714 County Rd 88, St Anthony, is part of Hennepin County Medical Center. They also have a pharmacy.
Multicultural Health Services, 2330 Central Avenue, focuses on East African, Southeast Asian, African American and Hispanic patients.
Neighborhood HealthSource, 2301 Central Avenue, serves people at all income levels. They also have a clinic at 342 13th Avenue NE.
North Memorial Health Clinic, 2600 39th Ave NE, St Anthony, offers primary care and family medicine.
Below: Columbia Park Clinic will close Dec. 4, Pharmacy Dec. 1. (Photo by Cynthia Sowden)