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DMC Special Report: Community health

Olmsted County is best known for being home of Mayo Clinic. But did you know it's also one of the healthiest counties in the United States? 

In order to continue attracting patients and a large populous, Rochester hopes to transform into a destination medical center by encompassing services ranging from improved facilities to better overall public health.

Patient experience

When patients come to Rochester to receive medical attention, they come because of the quality of health care they receive.

While downtown Rochester provides patients with access to the Mayo Clinic’s facilities, physicians and staff in an environment dedicated to health and wellness, there are less resources available for patients and community members to explore other elements.

Approximately 70 percent of patient time is spent outside of the hospital, compared to the 30 percent of time spent inside clinic walls. According to Mayo officials, more needs to be done to provide resources and options that would be available for patients during that time spent outside of the clinic.

“We are struggling where there is a gap in that [community options], which is why DMC is leading this effort,” said Dr. Sandhya Pruthi, medical director of patient experience at Mayo Clinic.

Rendering: Heart of the City / DMC Development Plan

“One of the aspects of this is making Rochester a place where patients can interact with the community and the community can interact with the patients,” said city council member Nick Campion. He would like to see it become easier for visitors to "transition from receiving care to being a component of the society.”

According to the DMC development plan, the key to enhancing this experience includes a welcoming arrival with easy navigation and conveniently located transit. It also calls for fully accessible interior spaces including a visitor’s center, integrated care pavilion and wellness center.

“Having these strategic centers that the DMC are focusing on ... are critical initiatives that the visitors and patients are going to benefit from," said Dr. Pruthi.

Patients starting any clinical procedure could endure multiple visits and certainly a lot of stress. Dr. Pruthi said she finds herself, at times, consulting with patients — telling them that they have to stay an extra day or two for additional testing. 

"Because of the things that I have ordered or the tests that I have recommended, and they look to me and say: 'What would you do? Where would you eat? Where would you go? What would you do in your downtime?' I can now speak to this, saying this is what DMC is doing for us," she said.


This struggle extends to more than just patients, but also caretakers. Dr. Pruthi explained how patients “come with an individual because of the stress of the diagnosis, and they give them support. They are struggling with what to do for three, four days, or maybe a week.”

Having the heart of Rochester be dedicated to increased patient experience, right near the Mayo Clinic, will provide an incentive for patients and caretakers to stay in this developing community and to receive their care.

"Instead of just going to Rochester to go to the hospital and then getting in your car and leaving ... we can kind of embrace you as a patient, bring you into the community," said Campion. "That philosophy bleeds into a lot of what we're looking at for criteria for excellent projects for DMC."

Innovation in biobusiness

One of the main components of DMC is to cultivate and attract new biobusiness companies to grow alongside Mayo Clinic. The goal is for that work to be done in Discovery Square, one of the six sub-districts laid out in the development plan.

“Discovery Square is really the opportunity to maximize the scientific work, the research work, and the clinical work going on in Rochester that is unique to many places in the country” said Seeb, a former nurse who spent the last 20 years leading the St. Paul Riverfront Corp.

Graphic: DMC Development Plan

Graphic: DMC Development Plan

Already, Seeb said, there is $400 million worth of projects in the pipeline.

"Not every one will be done, some will be done better than proposed, and some that aren’t even on the horizon will happen," he said. "That’s a lot of energy and momentum going forward and you ought to be proud of that in the community.”

Jamie Rothe, Mayo Clinic's DMC manager, said the significant part about Discovery Square is that it creates a space for startups and other businesses to collaborate with Mayo, as well as each other.

"The environment for collaboration is really positive and booming right now," said Rothe. "I think if you look at how research used to be done years ago, it was very much people kept it private, and didn't share and didn't collaborate as much. But now, people are starting to collaborate more and looking for those opportunities."

Many of the initial DMC projects leverage existing community assets by finding ways to improve what is already there, according to Seeb. 

“We’re going to be doing a project where we start looking at the space existing in the Peace Plaza and other potential public space in that geography could be enhanced or improved to make them even more appealing and more attractive,” said Seeb.

Some groups, such as BioAM, have already been working for years on developing a bigger bio-business presence in Rochester. Jamie Sundsbak, the group's founder, expressed need of utilizing Discovery Square as a “Disneyland of Minnesota in terms of health care.”

He said that could include innovative technology, along with interactive learning exhibits on health.

Public health

“We are in a unique position to think about how  — more than any other city in the world — we can teach people about health," questioned Seeb. "[How] can we live healthy lifestyles; can we create an environment where there’s fresh air, access to fresh foods, healthy living and working environments?" 

But what exactly is being done to make Rochester a healthy city and how can we teach people about community health? Public health has not gone unnoticed in the DMC planning process.

Photo: Mayo Clinic / The Med City Beat

The plan lays out a series of goals to improve the health of the community. One such aspiration is to achieve the “highest quality patient, companion, visitor, employee, and resident experience, now and in the future.”

According to DMC, these goals will be met by creating services and programs that support this world class destination along with developing strategies to enhance the quality of experience for patients, visitors and residents.

“By design, it is an economic development plan that has introduced health among other areas” said Pete Giesen, director of Olmsted County Health. "The area that I see with the greatest opportunity is the growth in the built environment."

City planners are, according to the plan, increasingly aware of the impacts of the built environment on public health. As a result, health is expected to play a large role in future urban design.

“The kinds of things that create for a livable city — not just the buildings, but how you create a livable city — [are] all embedded in the framework of the DMC plan," said Seeb.

Our built environment is constantly being changed by the ways public health interventions are acting upon it. One public health intervention that will soon be affecting Rochester is the Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP). SHIP focuses on increasing physical activity, improving nutrition and reducing the number of people who use tobacco or are exposed to it. 

“Instead of the public health piece being all about education, it’s really about changing our environment," said JoAnne Judge-Dietz, SHIP School Coordinator at Olmsted County Public Health.

Glen Morris is a student at the University of Minnesota Rochester. He wants pursue a career in toxicology.

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