KEOKUK - A spokesperson with Insight, the health system in talks regarding the closed Blessing Keokuk Hospital, said Insight teams were on-site last week to evaluate the shuttered facility.
Paul Stewart, a media spokesperson with Insight, said a final determination on what services the facility will provide has not been made, saying several processes need to be flushed out.
"We want to work closely with local leaders as to what's going to be in the best interest of the community going forward. Whether that's critical access care, a rural hospital, and one or two others that we're exploring," Stewart said.
"We have not been able to have real discussions yet because we were still negotiating the terms of the (letter of intent)."
Stewart said the LOI is not contingent on current Rural Emergency Hospital legislation being moved through the Iowa legislature, or any financial incentives at this point. However, the timing of beginning operations could be based on those developments.
He said the current landscape has Insight planning to have something open in the next several months, well before the end of the year.
Evaluation teams were at the Keokuk facility last week, but Stewart said upper level Insight officials haven't reviewed that report as of Friday.
Blessing officials said in September that a private engineering firm estimated that $20 million in building repairs were needed.
The Keokuk Hospital has seen multiple owners over the past decade with each effort resulting in closure or sale. Stewart said Insight has a different payor mix because of the wide range of services they provide, which gives the health system other viable options.
"We have an overall strategy of using economies of scale because of our system, and the specialists we have on staff, that allows us to have a slightly different mix," Stewart said.
"That, coupled with the values we can find for higher level procedures, has proven out before," Stewart said. "We are in a very similar situation in Chicago with an underperforming asset that we've stablized."
The medical group runs a 400-bed unit on Chicago's south side, and has other units in Michigan. Stewart says this acquisition would allow Insight to expand their services in the Midwest.
He said the Keokuk facility kind of popped up on their radar, but Insight is in an active growth mode and looks at underperforming operations.
"Our initial projections show we can find some areas to stablize the finances and we'll be working closely with local elected officials and the state to get a facility up that reflects the needs of the community and county," he said.
Stewart said Insight's leadership is keenly aware of the struggles other operators have encountered trying to sustain at Keokuk hospital.
"We've been doing some initial research on those closures. And other factors have caused some strain. We want to bring some thought-leaders to the situation and help alleviate those issues," he said.
Currently Insight is waiting for a certificate of need that's being prepared, as well as information from the state and city on how best to move forward in Keokuk.
He said Insight is also following the Rural Emergency Hospital bill in the Iowa legislature, closely.
"We're very familiar with that model and it's something we're looking at. The certificate of need helps us better understand things and we're in very preliminary stages of the transition and overall delivery model," Stewart said.
"We want to do what's in the best interest of the community there. And right now, I'm not in any position to say specificially what that is."
The bill for the emergency hospitals creates facilities that, according to Rep. Martin Graber (R -Fort Madison), serve essentially as triage centers where patients are stabilized and observed, if necessary, before being transported to area higher-level hospitals.
Lee County has added nine full-time staff and additional equipment to prop up emergency services in Keokuk due to the closure of the hospital.
County officials have said the direction of the ambulance service is geared toward emergency priorities and then transports. Lee County Board Chairman Garry Seyb said it's still critical for the EMS levy to pass in September to help fund the county ambulance service.
Seyb said the new development with Insight doesn't change the posture of the county toward the levy or the continued development of the ambulance program.
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