Before COVID turned our world upside down, M Health Fairview was ready to close down Bethesda and St Joseph’s hospitals. Once Covid hit, Bethesda was converted to a Covid only hospital, and now that we have a handle on Covid hospitalizations, they have decided to go back to their original plan of closing down Bethesda and downsizing St. Joe’s. Beyond closing down hospitals, Fairview is also closing down seven community clinics.
We are living in the middle of a global pandemic. We have handled it so poorly that we have millions of people unemployed, many permanently. At this point, Fairview is about to lay off 900 employees, and close two hospitals and sixteen clinics. It seems as if our health care system is not about providing health care, but providing good salaries for the administrations of the non-profit health systems.
Fairview’s administration knew that laying off 900 employees would look terrible considering the current conditions. By offering the hospital to the county for use as a homeless shelter, they are distracting us from their despicable actions. Fairview waited until October to “announce” this, and placed the county into a rushed bind to get the shelter up and running before winter. No one would complain about housing homeless people with winter coming. No one would complain about the county signing a $2-3 million dollar lease in the face of such an “emergency”. Instead of an empty building that is generating no income, now they’ll have a lease, good press and ending the year in the black.
It’s not only Fairview that is closing clinics. Health Partners is closing eight clinics as well. It’s hard to blame Fairview and Health Partners for trying to stay in the black when they exist within a for profit health care system that values profits and bloated health care administrations over people. If they don’t cut services and people, then they will go out of existence. They serve at the pleasure of the market.
Our city, county, state and federal governments exist to serve us and not the market. We elect our representatives to take care of our needs and not the market’s needs. In the 1990’s there was a wave of sales of public hospitals to private entities. Ramsey County Medical Center was sold to HealthPartners in 1994.
Maybe it is time to get our public officials to intervene in this dysfunctional market for our benefit. It would be great to get single payer health care nationally (i.e. Medicare for All), or even at the state level (I.e. Minnesota Health Plan), but we also need an adequate number of hospitals, ER’s, and clinics in all of our neighborhoods, not only where it is profitable. Unlike businesses and nonprofits, governments can do so much more than just compete against them to provide services. Government can provide jobs and good paying union jobs at that. It belongs to all of us and should serve equally all of us regardless of how much money we have.
Our representatives need to think creatively and expansively about what our government can do for us at a time of great need. As the private sector contracts, the public sector should expand to keep people employed and provide the necessary health care and housing that we need. When the public sector expands, it should think differently about how to run organizations, so they do not become bureaucratic technocracies of the upper middle class, but worker-run organizations that bring in people of modest skills and all backgrounds and train them up so that they can be employable anywhere. Lastly, let’s not leave affordable housing to private developers. In other countries, social housing is built on a massive scale and people of all means live in them. In Vienna, Austria, the city government owns and manages 220,000 housing units, which represent about 25 percent of the city’s housing stock.
Now is the time for our representatives to step up and build a better future and relieve us from the cruelty of the market that is only in search of profit.
By Steve T.