Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.
Patients from around the world have sought answers at Mayo Clinic for more than 150 years. A massive, farsighted investment in the renowned medical center's Rochester campus commendably ensures this southeast Minnesota community stays a medical mecca for generations to come.
On Tuesday, Mayo Clinic officials made public the details of a $5 billion expansion that will transform the city's skyline and potentially set a new design standard for medical centers. The plan calls for Mayo to construct five buildings, including a nine-story patient care complex, that will connect via a "skybridge" to the existing campus, the Star Tribune reported earlier this week.
While project renderings lend a futuristic, Jetsons-like appearance to downtown Rochester, what's really impressive is how the buildings will function. The design ensures the new facilities can keep pace with technological leaps forward, are adaptable to changing needs (such as a pandemic) and, above all, make it easier for patients to navigate their healing journey once they arrive in Rochester.
The project's scope is remarkable, making Mayo's announcement this week a historic Minnesota moment worthy of reflection and celebration. The $5 billion is a monumental sum, dwarfing the $1 billion required to build another big and relatively recent Minnesota project — U.S. Bank Stadium.
More impressive, $5 billion stands out among other medical expansions nationwide. The Mayo project by far tops a national list of 2023's largest hospital investments compiled by Becker's Hospital Review.
The closest: a $3 billion medical center undertaken by New York City-based NYU Langone Health. Another big project elsewhere: Henry Ford Health's decision to invest $2.5 billion in the next 10 years to develop Detroit's New Center.
Former state legislator David Senjem, a Republican who represented Rochester, could barely contain his excitement during an interview with an editorial writer this week.
"Five billion dollars is going to be spent in downtown Rochester to take us into 22nd century medicine," said Senjem, who is also a Mayo retiree. "It's just fabulous when you think about it. No other city in this world would not want this to happen to them and here we are, little Rochester, Minnesota ... and we get such a gift."
Clearly there are broad benefits to the state, not just the city. The world-class health care provided within our borders has long powered the economy and made top-notch care available close to home. Mayo's expansion builds upon this, providing an even stronger foundation for future well-being and prosperity.
It's also important to note that Mayo could have expanded elsewhere, a point it made heavy-handedly during the last legislative session while objecting to proposed nurse staffing requirements and another health care measure.
It operates large campuses in Florida and Arizona, yet it fortunately chose to build here. But we'd also point out that Mayo stands to benefit as well because it will be able to leverage one of the state's core assets — its educated workforce.
The nation already faces a daunting labor shortage, one that's particularly acute in health care. Technology and futuristic buildings contribute to medical advances. But talented, dedicated staff are the key.
Minnesota is home to two respected medical schools, one at Mayo and one based at the University of Minnesota, with locations in the Twin Cities, Duluth and, soon, St. Cloud. That physician pipeline is critical but so are the state's other renowned health sciences programs, such as the schools of pharmacy, nursing and public health at the U.
Right now, a state task force is scrutinizing how these U programs can continue to provide "nation-leading health professions education," according to a gubernatorial executive order. The Mayo announcement underscores how important this task force's mission is.
Mayo's cohesive plans for the future also stand in painful contrast to questions about the U's medical center. The current partnership between the U and Fairview, which acquired the U's teaching hospitals in 1997, is strained. Resolution is vital to generate a vision for this medical center's future.
One component of Mayo's plan merits praise in particular: improving the patient experience. This is already a large medical center, and will get even bigger. But a "neighborhood" approach to delivering care, meaning services for breast cancer or other conditions are grouped together, should make care more convenient.
New buildings with natural light and other touches will enhance the healing environment, too. While other medical centers have done this on a limited basis, the scale of Mayo's efforts appears to differentiate it from others.
In 1931, Dr. Charles Mayo observed: "If we excel in anything, it is in our capacity for translating idealism into action." Mayo's thoughtful expansion hews to this tradition, with the coming changes making this venerable institution even more of a global standout.