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State Health Board approves new Univ. of Iowa Hospitals facility in North Liberty

Published: Aug. 31, 2021 at 7:44 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - After waiting for the governor’s office, an initial denial, and more than nine hours of testimony, the State Health Facilities Council decided the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics can build a new hospital in North Liberty on Tuesday.

UIHC needed the State Health Facilities Council to approve a “certificate of need” to build a new 48-bed hospital with 16 operating rooms which would be completed by 2025. Back in February, the council denied the proposal in a close 2-3 vote. However, a resignation created the potential to reverse the previous decision after UIHC resubmitted a similar application for a second vote.

Carol Earnhardt resigned from the State Facilities Council in May. She voted against the project and was replaced by Kelly Blackford from Linn County. The panel voted 4-1 to approve the project.

The second application is similar to its first application but contains a few differences. Suresh Gunasekaran, who is the CEO for UIHC, said the new hospital will provide long-term specialized care to patients. He said UIHC cannot train more doctors without growing and it has had to deny thousands of patient transfers this year because of capacity issues.

UIHC said community hospitals, like Mercy Iowa City, can’t provide the same kind of care that it can, as evidenced by the 17,000 patients those hospitals send to them.

“That’s proof that every bed is not the same,” Gunasekaran said.

Gunasekaran also said the new hospital is budgeted to cost $230 Million. He said the lack of job losses during the pandemic is proof the hospital is in good financial shape to expand. However, UIHC put employees on furlough and cut their salaries in June 2020.

Three different eastern Iowa hospitals have continually expressed their frustrations with UIHC’s plans to expand, arguing the new hospital duplicated services and stood to hurt existing operations. Those hospitals included UnityPoint Health-St. Lukes, Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids, and Mercy Iowa City.

Sean Williams, who is the CEO and president of Mercy Iowa City, said approving the new hospital will affect Mercy Iowa City’s ability to make money.

“This will particular project will be devastating to Mercy Iowa City,” Williams said.

Michelle Niermann, who is the president and CEO at UnityPoint Health Cedar Rapids, said the hospital group is against the project because existing hospitals already have significant capacity available. She said another UIHC hospital would create more struggles for other community hospitals because other hospital groups believe UIHC is trying to expand into primary and secondary care.

“In addition to the marketing we see on every medium,” Niermann said. “The university in recent years has acquired pediatrics in Cedar Rapids and established primary care.”

Eric Briesemeister, who is the CEO of UnityPoint Health-Jones Regional Medical Center, also spoke against the project. He said a new UIHC hospital in North Liberty will hurt rural healthcare centers’ ability to retain employees.

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