UI Hospitals and Clinics to continue pushing for new North Liberty hospital

After a state board voted down a request from University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics to build a hospital in North Liberty amid outcry from other local hospitals, UIHC leaders told the state Board of Regents Wednesday the hospital system would continue to advocate for a new hospital.


Ayrton Breckenridge

CEO of University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and Associate Vice President of University of Iowa Health Care, Suresh Gunasekaran, speaks during the Iowa Board of Regents meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 24 over Zoom. Gunasekaran spoke about case mix index, patient satisfaction and quality scores.

Eleanor Hildebrandt, News Reporter

University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics leaders told the state Board of Regents Wednesday that the hospital network would continue to push for approval for a new hospital after a state board denied the network’s plans to build a new facility in North Liberty.

During the hour long presentation, Vice President for Medical Affairs Brooks Jackson said the university is still pursuing the project, which he said would increase the hospital’s bed capacity and reduce instances of the hospital turning away transfer patients.

“Our application was turned down by a narrow three to two vote,” he said. “The outcome, while disappointing, is not unexpected…It is not uncommon for a project of this significance to require more than one hearing before receiving approval.”

As The Daily Iowan previously reported a state board denied UIHC’s application to develop a $230 million facility in North Liberty after several local hospital representatives said it would negatively affect their business. Local hospitals lined up at the hearing to speak against the new addition, asking why UIHC should need another hospital when other area hospitals had extra bed capacity. UIHC leaders countered saying that UIHC was receiving an influx of specialty transfer patients from out-of-county that wouldn’t have sought care at other local hospitals anyway. 

UIHC initially presented its plans for the project to the board at its February 2020 meeting

The proposed hospital would serve as a final extension of the UI’s academic medical center, said Jackson, and the four-story building would include inpatient rooms, operating rooms, and an emergency department. He said the space plans to provide comprehensive and coordinated care while offering clinical and applied research as well. 

“We know that a second academic health care campus can address these growing health needs while simultaneously continuing to advance out research and education,” he said. “So, we will continue to give 100 percent effort to make the case for this project for the people of Iowa.”

Alongside moving forward on plans to build another facility, UIHC CEO Suresh Gunasekaran updated the board on patient satisfaction numbers at the hospital — something he has said has been a focus since he started at the university. 

“When I started two years ago, we were pretty significantly below the national benchmark for patient satisfaction,” he said. “Now, I’m happy to report that we’ve reached essentially the median, the national average for patient satisfaction. This doesn’t make us happy, this just tells us that we’re trending in the right way.”

The data Gunasekaran shared with the regents included information from the COVID-19 pandemic. He said patient satisfaction has continued to go up in the wake of the pandemic. 

“I wanted to highlight the hard work that has happened in our hospital areas,” he said. “…Many of our inpatient units now rank in the 90th type percentiles nationally for patient satisfaction. What I take particular pride in is that…units that have been significantly impacted by COVID, significantly had staff that have had to work extra hours and do these things and you can see that we improved, in spite of that.”

Gunasekaran said UIHC’s quality of care was not impacted by COVID-19 and health care workers are continuing to upholding standards of care. He said the UIHC’s overall care model is working when it comes to patient satisfaction and comprehensive care. He said the next step to continuing these successes is to attain more space.

“We want to continue to have the same high standard of excellence for patients from across the state,” he said. “The model is working, we just need to continue to advocate for more capacity to be able to do it.”