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UIHC Plans To Forge Ahead With Proposed New Hospital In North Liberty Despite Opposition

Univeristy of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics sign
Jon Farvel / Flickr
Leaders at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics plan to forge ahead with a proposal to build a new $230 million hospital in North Liberty, despite opposition to the facility.

The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics plans to continue making the case for building a new $230 million hospital in North Liberty. That’s despite a rejection from a key state board last week and strong opposition from leaders of other area hospitals, who argue the new facility would undercut their own business.

The UIHC argues the construction of the 300,000 square foot hospital on a 60 acre plot in North Liberty is “vital” to meet the ever-growing needs of the state’s most complex patients.

“We will continue to give a 100 percent effort to make the case for this project for the people of Iowa, just as we gave a 100 percent effort to ensure we could meet the needs of our community, to protect our state’s hospital from collapse against the weight of a terrifying COVID surge,” UIHC Vice President for Medical Affairs Brooks Jackson said.

The proposed four-story, 36 bed facility would offer inpatient and emergency services and help free up capacity at the hospital’s main campus near Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City.

As the state’s largest hospital and a preeminent research institution, the UIHC serves as a critical “safety net." When the state's other hospitals find themselves overwhelmed by the sickest and most challenging patients, it's often up to the UIHC to accept those transfers, a responsibility magnified by the ongoing coronavirus crisis, leaders say.

“The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics has the highest COVID ICU census in the state. We have the largest number of patients on ventilators in the state. And none of them are from Johnson County,” said UIHC CEO Suresh Gunasekaran. “What we need to have capacity and expertise to do is ultimately to serve the whole state.”

Jackson says the UIHC must expand its capacity in order to keep pace.

“We understand how difficult it is to manage operations when we are so full across our inpatient, outpatient and surgical platforms. And we see the coming tidal wave of an aging population with increasing comorbidities that will require the kind of complex care for which we are the only provider in Iowa,” Jackson said.

“We know that a second academic healthcare campus can address these growing health needs while simultaneously continuing to advance our research and education mission,” he added.

Despite that, last week the State Health Facilities Council denied the UIHC’s request for a certificate of need for the hospital, stalling the project for now.

Leaders of other area hospitals weighed in against the plan, arguing the facility is “unnecessary” and would be a “waste of state resources," while acknowledging that the expansion of the state-backed UIHC could threaten their own financial survival.

“Across health care, we are all experiencing the financial impacts of COVID-19 on our hospitals, clinics and staff,” said Sean Williams, President and CEO of Mercy Iowa City. “We should be focused on how we can partner to serve the needs of Iowans, not fighting the state for the survival of our 150-year-old Catholic community hospital.”

Still, UIHC leaders told the Iowa Board of Regents Wednesday that they’re undeterred. Jackson said it’s “not uncommon” for the State Health Facilities Council to reject proposals multiple times before ultimately approving them.

The council is slated to release a formal explanation of its decision, after which the UIHC may file an appeal or reapply.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter