UIHC North Liberty hospital proposal gets greenlight from state board

The $230 million dollar proposal was granted a certificate of need from the State Health Facility Council after being rejected in February.


Tate Hildyard

University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics are seen on Tuesday, June 23, 2020.

DI Staff

A state board approved University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics’ request to build a new hospital in North Liberty on Tuesday, reversing a decision the board made just six months ago when they denied a similar application.

UIHC put in a renewed application for a Certificate of Need to build the $230 million, 48-bed hospital on Forevergreen Road in North Liberty in May. The hospital had to be granted the certificate of need from the state Health Facilities Council in order to move forward with construction.

In February, the council denied UIHC’s request for the certificate, citing in part the expected negative impact it would have on community hospitals in the area like Mercy Iowa City and UnityPoint in Cedar Rapids.

When he came before the council again on Tuesday, UIHC CEO Suresh Gunasekaran said refusal of the proposal would have harmed patients in Iowa.

Gunasekaran noted that Iowans often have to leave the state to seek advanced medical care because UIHC does not have enough beds for patients. He also said that UIHC, as an academic research hospital, provides care that community hospitals in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids can’t provide.

“What’s key to understand in this application is that today, thousands of Iowans are disadvantaged by not having capacity at UIHC. This happens every single day,” he said. “The ability for us to expand our capacity in a timely manner will be critical.”

While some community hospitals said UIHC was unfairly expanding into primary care, Gunasekaran said the hospital, as an academic research institution, needs to provide primary care in order to train medical students.

“Iowa needs UIHC to train more doctors, and UIHC cannot train more doctors without growing,” Gunasekaran said. “We absolutely need additional capacity to be able to do the training.”

State Board of Regents President Mike Richards and President Pro Tem Sherry Bates also spoke in favor of the certificate. Richards, a former doctor, said the hospital has a duty to train future doctors and serve people across the state.

“We also expect UIHC to have sufficient capacity to educate the next generation of health care workers and conduct innovative research,” he said. “UIHC’s current capacity limitations prevent them from meeting the needs of Iowans. This is not acceptable to the Board of Regents.”

He said the hospital operates independently, and the upcoming project will not be using any appropriations or taxpayer dollars. Gunasekaran said the hospital’s budget is wholly funded by patient care.

During the nine-hour hearing, area hospitals against the proposal said it would hurt their patient flow. Michele Schoonover, CEO of Virginia Gay Hospital in Vinton said she fears that the UIHC North Liberty campus will take Virginia Gay patients in for routine care, instead of specialized care.

Eric Briesemiester, CEO of Jones Regional Medical Center said that he has seen aggressive UIHC advertising in Jones County.

“Not only do they advertise for their services, but they talk down about the ones that community hospitals and small hospitals like myself provide,” Breisemiester said. “…So UIHC is a fantastic resource for that tertiary specialized care, but they really do threaten the viability of rural healthcare entities like ours.”

Michele Nierman, CEO and President of UnityPoint Health, opened her presentation by saying that the proposal UIHC brought this time around is the same proposal they brought to the council back in February, although UIHC brought a renewed application.

“When it comes to this application it is the same cost. It’s been described in some length today it’s at the same location. It has the same lack of a meaningful long range development plan. The same lack of collaboration with confirmation as to why that’s not possible, that has the same potentially detrimental impact to community hospitals which is what we’re here to talk about today,” Neirman said.

The hospital is expected to open in 2025, pending approval from the state Board of Regents.