by Frances Edstrom, columnist
The news that Winona Health’s hospital, the former Community Memorial Hospital, has closed its inpatient psychiatric unit was surprising and upsetting for many of us. I imagine it will be upsetting to many more people over the coming years, as they or their loved ones experience psychiatric emergencies.
That change started me thinking about Winona’s hospital. What is it that we expect from a local hospital, as opposed to the regional hospital to our east in La Crosse, or the international medical center in Rochester?
What we want, I think, is to find a place where we feel safe, where there are professionals who can help save our lives, relieve our pain, ease our anxieties. In the case of accidental injuries, heart attacks, strokes, and other sudden and severe conditions, time is of the essence. We feel much safer knowing that help is minutes, rather than hours, away.
We value the convenience of a local clinic and hospital. Life is much simpler if our medical care is nearby. Taking the kids to the doctor means just a few hours away from work, not a day. The drive to the delivery room when labor starts is a few minutes, not an hour. Dialysis services are close to home, as is infusion therapy for cancer care.
We feel safe knowing that whatever our health needs, they can initially be addressed here. However, many hospitals around the state are discontinuing what most of us consider to be basic services. Some hospitals in Minnesota have even discontinued delivering babies, once the mainstay of the small-town hospital.
Back when Winona came together to build Community Memorial Hospital, the forerunner of Winona Health, there was a general feeling that the town had a real stake in its hospital, that the hospital was one of the things that made Winona a hub for the surrounding communities and made for a better quality of life here. In a changing world, it was a stabilizing presence.
For myriad reasons, that community feeling seems to have waned. It might be time for Winona citizens, both of the city and county, to reconnect with our health care facility, to get a clearer idea of where it is headed in the future, of what effect Gundersen Health System moving to Winona, and Destination Medical Center in Rochester, will have on our health care options at Winona Health.
We are often told that we need to be our own health care advocates. I think it is time that we expand that advocacy to the future of health care in Winona.