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District One Hospital holds community meetings to discuss Allina deal in Faribault

Faribault Daily News, 2/21/14

Nearly 50 people gathered at Faribault City Hall Wednesday night to learn more about District One Hospital's pending merger with Allina Health.

During his presentation, Pribyl reviewed District One's dismal financial status while also showcasing how the hospital is trying to turn itself around by slashing the budget, improving technology and, most notably, merging with Allina.

Wednesday's meeting was the second forum held with the public. Pribyl and members of the hospital's Board of Directors also hosted a meeting with Rice County elected officials and have gone to service club meetings like Rotary Club and the Knights of Columbus to discuss the same topics.

What made Wednesday's meeting significantly different from other meetings was attendance. Pribyl said that the last community forum only had a handful of people. On Wednesday, more than a dozen of District One's nurses--dressed in the Minnesota Nurses Association's signature red--showed up, in addition to numerous Faribault area residents.

Sharon Miller, representing her nurses' union colleagues from the hospital, questioned Pribyl about whether the merger with Allina will affect the level of compassion and care. Miller said that she and her colleagues were worried about the patient to nurse level changing

"How can we trust you?" Miller asked. "There's no substitute for a nurse with a vested interest in the community, unlike a big corporate entity."

Pribyl pointed out that the level of compassion and care at every hospital he has worked at in his 33 years in healthcare has been determined at the local level, even in the big multi-hospital systems.

"Culture is not dictated from above," Pribyl said.

Three MNA members from Regina Medical Center in Hastings came to the Faribault meeting to warn people about the troubles they've had with Allina. Jenni Gustafson, a nurse at Regina, said the her hospital's merger has been a "stressful and hurtful process."

"It's taken more than a year," Gustafson said. "What can be done to protect your staff from being treated like second-rate people?"

Pribyl assured the audience that he and the local representation of the hospital board intend to be major advocates for fair treatment of the staff, stressing the deal is not a cold corporate takeover but a negotiation for integration.

While Pribyl provided as much information as he could, some residents still were concerned. Local business owner Karl Vohs questioned why top-level Allina representatives had never come to public meetings or made statements.

"I think we need more info," Vohs said. "Can't we see a five or 10-year plan? This (hospital) is a community asset and we feel like its ours."

Pribyl agreed with Vohs.

"Do we need more information? I couldn't agree more. But there are a whole lot of details that we don't have yet because we're still in discussions," Pribyl said.

Pribyl anticipated that if a final deal is reached between District One and Allina, Allina leadership would want to meet with the community--although Pribyl did not claim to speak for them.

The next community forum will be held on March 13 at noon in the Vintage Ballroom. Pribyl will also appear on KDHL on March 6 to discuss the deal.

By CRISTETA BOARINI

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