MINNEAPOLS (WCCO) — Major changes are coming for a well-known eye specialty hospital in Minneapolis. Allina Health says that Phillips Eye Institute (PEI) will transition its services to a different building at Abbott Northwestern Hospital which would result in a reduction of staff.

For about 30 years, Dr. Keith Carlson has dedicated his life to eye care. Dr. Carlson started his career as an ophthalmologist at Phillips Eye Institute, a hospital that serves 15,000 patients a year.

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“I saw it grow from small beginnings to what it’s been over the years,” said Dr. Carlson. “It’s a place that is truly a special place.”

Last August, Allina Health announced to its employees that services at Phillips Institute will move to the 5th floor of the Piper Building at the main Abbott Northwestern Hospital campus. The change will go into effect February 2022.

In a statement to WCCO, Allina said the transition “will result in some reduction in staffing.” Allina said they are “working closely with employees impacted…to provide support and direction for future job opportunities within the Allina Health System.”

Allina said the repositioning aligns “to the shift in demand as the majority of eye procedures migrate to outpatient settings.”

“It was very much a shock to us and sad event,” said Dr. Carlson. “The real tragedy is care patience that will be jeopardize. The things we can do for the people in the Upper Midwest, the community of interest we serve was amazing.”

Lynn Carlson is a former Allina employee and a member of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota as the rank and file vice president of the Allina sector. Lynn says since the announcement, many staff left in fear of losing their jobs. Lynn says employees have described the situation as “very depressing and getting worse daily as coworkers continue to leave.”

“Those that have chosen to remain are now facing a staffing shortage resulting in changing schedules and shifts they’ve worked for years and uncertainty of what is to come,” said Lynn.

“We lost a lot of great talent, talent that would have built up Phillips institute for generations to come,” said Dr. Carlson.

Lynn says at SEIU’s request, Allina agreed to meet with the negotiations team to discuss retention bonuses for surgical techs and sterile processing employees who agree to work during the interim.

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“Currently we have 10 operating rooms at PEI, we’re very busy, many cases scheduled on a daily basis and they’re desperate now. People have left and they need a core staff there to maintain or at least get us through as they slowly transition down from 10 operating rooms to five to three once this small group goes to Abbott,” said Lynn.

While there’s 10 operating rooms at Phillips Institute, Dr. Carlson says at most only half are running because there’s not enough workers.

“There could’ve been better ways to come together and find how we can make this work and keep going forward,” said Dr. Carlson.

Lynn says the union was not notified about the transition. She says if Allina would have talked to the unions (MNA and SEIU) before making the announcement, employees could have had a smoother transition.

“We do and are able to negotiate a successful path for all employees if we have been involved from the start,” said Lynn.

In an email to staff, Allina says the future of the Phillips Eye Institute building has not been determined. Allina will continue to maintain the building and provide security services while they work with community partners to determine the best future use for the space.

Allina Health’s full statement:

In February, 2022, Allina Health will transition Phillips Eye Institute (PEI) in-patient and out-patient services to the Abbott Northwestern Hospital Campus, located a few blocks away in South Minneapolis. The services Phillips Eye Institute provides for patients will be relocated to a new care setting at Abbott Northwestern Hospital that will carry the Phillips Eye Institute name.

This repositioning of ophthalmologic care will allow us to continue to deliver the high quality specialized eye care services to the community that PEI is known for, while also aligning to the shift in demand as the majority of eye procedures migrate to outpatient settings. The transition from PEI to a new care setting at Abbott Northwestern Hospital will result in some reduction in staffing. Allina Health is committed to working closely with employees impacted by the transition to provide support and direction for future job opportunities within the Allina Health system. 

Beginning with its founding as Mt. Sinai Hospital, to possibly serving as a cohort site of care for COVID-19, Phillips Eye Institute’s proud history has always been one of meeting the unique needs of the community. Allina Health is committed to working with our community partners to determine the best future use of the PEI building while continuing to honor its legacy.

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