It’s time to heal the wounds of Childern’s Hospital expansion in Phillips

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Phillips Community has a population of more than 20,000 residents. It is larger than 35 counties in Minnesota, amongst the very largest in ethnic diversity, rich with creative social and physical developments, while beleaguered by problems of crime, poverty and racism. Its resolve has been challenged for decades by bureaucracies, institutions, careless absent-landlords, and industrial pollution. Nonetheless, it has had a resiliency that has outlived its many supporters and detractors.

One of the strongest allies of this community has been the local organizations of the health care industry. There is a wide range of size and commitment to the community amongst the approximately 150 health-related businesses residing within our borders. Coincidentally and ironically, that ally can also be the strongest threat. This latest test of unbridled institutionalization by Children’s Hospital has done exceptional damage and will need considerable time and effort to repair.

The recent demolition of very good houses by Children’s Hospital is a sad reminder of similar waste with which they scathed the other blocks upon which they are now located. They do need to be accountable for their disregard of this community, of the environment, and for not using health-safe demolition practices. The falsehoods that houses were too large (except one) and that the streets were too narrow require scrutiny. It is a contradiction that 2512-14 Chicago had to be demolished rather than moved (See Alley Jan/Feb and March 2006) for fear of damage while tearing down 2508-10 more than 20 feet away while that house was less than two feet from a building still standing. Children’s also deserves to be challenged to discontinue coasting on the “coattails” and reputation of Abbott-Northwestern Hospital, which has continued to improve their real estate development policies through the decades.

For residents, thousands of hours of community meetings and hearings over the last many years, (including support of hospital bond proposals at City Hall), all become an embarrassment, or, at least, a regretful waste of time. A look back over this history with some of these same hospital institutions also becomes a reminder of struggles like the former Mt. Sinai Hospitals’s infringement of a parking ramp on Park Avenue. A few years later, Phillips Eye Institute convinced the community of the supposed necessity of an architectural “flying wedge” infringement on Park Avenue’s zoning set-back (an area now filled in with a building). Both of these concessions seem very foolish now that the former Mt. Sinai Hospital is for sale by the MInneapolis School Board, which wastefully bought it, rehabbed it for Four Winds School/ Phillips Community School and then closed it. A cynical view suggests that perhaps Children’s should have purchased the old Mt. Sinai Hospital. Better yet, they could have purchased Andersen School (since it is so large and ugly anyway) and had an adjacent park. The former Mt. Sinai site could house Andersen School students, now that it is unused.

Was this current expansionism inevitable and residents have been unwilling to admit it or have they admitted it and were just conveniently pacified with home improvement grants, mollified with awards, and have been foolishly keeping the tax base filled in until the onslaught arrived?

Prior to the Vietnam War, there was talk of having joint facilities use between the various hospitals around 25th Street and Chicago Avenue: Abbott Northwestern, Children’s Hospital, Lutheran Deaconess Hospital (now gone), Mt. Sinai (now gone), and Sister Kenny. This was abandoned due to complexities of politics and the cost of the War. In the 1980’s, there were hints again of more development along Chicago Avenue as obvious signs and references were made to “Medical Alley,” the Minneapolis claim to fame similar to Silicone Valley. Now, we are at war again, but neither war nor its cost to date of $320 billion seems enough to untrack health institution facility expansionism.

In the past, there were governmental regulations requiring impact statements in order for expansion of health care facilities or services. Impacts were assessed on a metropolitan-wide basis but also required local, neighborhood evaluation. The Abbott-Northwestern Community Advisory Committee produced the first six-block agreement, resulting from the necessity of community impact review.

The deregulation rampant during Ronald Reagan’s presidency removed impact mandates. However, in this community, responsibility continued and improved due to the integrity of committed leadership at Abbott-Northwestern and Allina and relationships between particular personnel and other community leaders.

Deregulation theory was, in part, that competition would produce the best and most cost-effective health care. Those who disagreed can now only take consolation in having been correct. Instead, we have millions in this country without any or adequate health insurance, including many people in Phillips. Health executives like Bill McGuire, the CEO of United Health, receive more than $100 million per year. Extravagant facilities, built to compete for personnel and customers result in this “land-rush” on Block 5.
This Community’s uniqueness, which drew these health-care organizations here originally, is in danger of being completely lost. Trees, housing, and building materials have been lost. Trust has been betrayed. The time is now for dialogue to salvage the relationships. That dialogue can only advance if there is an honesty of talk without “shell games,” intimidation, lies, false information, and bravado. Simultaneous to the dialogue there needs to be obvious actions put in place that assure the quality of life for all. We need to come together, as difficult as it may be, to till the soil of this now-vacant land and plant seeds of doing the work of the public good in this small corner to shame the face of greed. The public health of our community is counting on us to do so.

Harvey Winje, Volunteer Editor for The Alley Newspaper was born at Northwestern Hospital. He grew up in the demolished house at 2514 Chicago Avenue South. He has also served previously as the Chair of the A/N Community Advisory Committee. He also wishes to disclose to the readership that his company has also been employed by A/N on various occasions in the 1980’s and early 1990’s to help move houses, or salvage their contents for use by neighborhood homeowners, the ReUse Center,and several non-profits.

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