Health systems need to step up for Keokuk


Blessing's closure of the hospital in Keokuk is really a matter of life and death.

We can see the dramatics on full display as Lee County grapples with funding an additional full-time ambulance set up in the city of 10,300.

Supervisor Garry Seyb said the county will suffer a million dollar hit before the end of the fiscal year in June.

Supervisor Matt Pflug has said the county is in a crisis situation and the residents of Keokuk "are scared to death".

There's politics involved now as well and emotions are running at a high level.

The county gave Keokuk Area Hospital more than $200,000 when the hospital was struggling financially over 2013 and 2014. To date, Blessing has declined to put any money on the table to assist the county.

But CEO Maureen Kahn hinted in recent news articles that the the Keokuk Hospital Foundation funds be moved to the EMS system.

That would have amounted to several hundred thousand dollars. Those funds are now in the hands of the Keokuk Community Foundation and no path to obtaining the funds for the ambulance service has been laid out.

County officials keep moving forward with providing additional EMS staff to help Keokuk residents get the emergency care they need - the care they deserve. But they need help.

This isn't an issue of choice for the county. When LeeComm dispatches EMS for an emergency in Keokuk, they have to go. And without an ER, that ambulance staff of EMTs and/or paramedics is going to be gone for a while if a transport is required.

There is a good plan in the works for a rapid-response vehicle that would carry a paramedic who could make decisions on the level of care necessitated by the  call. The paramedic could then get in the ambulance and provide advanced care or decide B level care with EMTs is sufficient for the transport and become mobile again.

But the health systems in place in the county and those groups that can help with these unanticipated costs will hopefully see the county is doing whatever needs done to take care of the people of Keokuk. And jump in.

"We have plans to be the best transport ambulance in the state and we're going to do whatever we have to do to get it done," Pflug said.

That's their commitment, but there has to be a commitment from the others in the area that are charged with the healthcare of the county's 34,000 people.

County supervisors recently approved hiring and paying for the training of nine new EMS staff as well as purchasing the rapid-response vehicle. All told that will cost close to $800,000. More than $700,000 of that is annual payroll.

An emergency services levy could be on the ballot in the spring to offset some of those ongoing costs, but the language of the ballot measure has to be worked out, and the most the county could collect is .75/$1,000 of assessed valuation.

The money to front the unplanned increase in staffing and equipment caused by the Blessing closure will in all likelihood come from the county's ARPA funds. Those remaining funds have been fully allocated to the county's new Health Department/EMS building and would have to be replaced to continue with that critical health project.

It would seem to be in everyone's best interest that Blessing, Great River Health, local, state, and even federal resources come to bear to make sure that the people of Keokuk can get timely healthcare on a regular basis.

State Rep. Martin Graber of Fort Madison said he thinks Blessing has "pulled up anchor and is sailing away".

Let's hope that's not the case and they do what Kathy Hull, chief of rural hospitals said when they closed, that Blessing was interested in being part of the solution.

If the county can't support two hospitals, which the past 10 to  12 years seems to bear out, then we have no choice but to become the most efficient transport system we can be.

People's lives are literally on the line. And that just can't be Beside the Point.

Chuck Vandenberg is editor and co-owner of the Pen City Current and in full disclosure is the county's grant writer and ARPA Fund administrator.

Blessing Health System, Great River Health, Lee County, Fort Madison, Keokuk, Pen City Current, Beside the Point, editorial, Sunday, opinion,


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