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An Iowa-based health system has decided to stop providing primary care at a clinic in Albert Lea next year, a setback for the nonprofit group that's worked for years to establish an outpatient center in the southern Minnesota town.

MercyOne, which is based in suburban Des Moines, attributed the pullback to factors ranging from the pandemic to staffing troubles.

It's not yet clear whether the health system will continue to provide specialty care in Albert Lea, where clinic organizers are searching to find a replacement for primary care.

"Like all health care systems, MercyOne must reduce costs and redistribute resources to ensure we can continue to fulfill our mission with a focus on providing high-quality patient care," the nonprofit group said in a statement.

A number of medical groups have expressed interest in filling the void come January, said Brad Arends of the Albert Lea Health Care Coalition. The nonprofit coalition owns the clinic and recruited MercyOne to provide services.

"It's not the death of it," Arends said. "We're going to find somebody to staff that primary care."

He added that primary care services are "the first phase that any health care organization has to have in order to be economically viable."

Residents of Albert Lea started mobilizing to create the clinic in the wake of Mayo Clinic's decision in 2017 to reduce services in the town's hospital. After the clinic opened two years ago, residents enrolled in a popular Medicare Advantage plan found they didn't have in-network access to the clinic, but successfully lobbied for a change.