Several dozen employees and other supporters of Keokuk Area Hospital turned out for this week's Lee County Board of Supervisors meeting, hoping to convince the board to contribute $111,000 to the hospital. Their efforts did not work out, but they might have planted the seed for future success.
The county pledged roughly $100,000 to the hospital in 2013 and again in 2014. Board Chairman Ron Fedler, who represents the northern third of Lee County, repeatedly voted against giving the hospital that money.
Fedler was named chairman of the board in January 2015, and since then the hospital has not been granted a vote on its request for another $111,000 in county funding because it has not been given a spot on a meeting agenda.
Instead, the hospital has been forced to speak during public input sessions, which are open to the public but do not result in official votes. Fedler told Tri States Public Radio that he has the authority to prohibit a vote.
“I’ve never seen it written,” said Fedler. “I’ve just been told that the agenda for the next week’s meeting has to be approved by the chair and so I have just been going by that and what’s been done for as many years as anyone can remember.”
Fedler has allowed the full board to vote on whether to place the hospital’s request for funding on an agenda, but it has failed each time, 3-2.
Supervisor Don Hunold, who represents Donnellson and part of Fort Madison, has consistently voted against allowing the hospital a spot on the agenda. He said he opposes giving the hospital money based on the information before him.
“I don’t care if it’s on the agenda or not,” said Hunold. “We voted not to put it back [on the agenda] because three [supervisors], I think, have already made up their minds, I believe. They can put it on the agenda, it would be the same thing.”
Prior to Hunold’s comment, Supervisor Rick Larkin told the crowd of KAH supporters Tuesday morning that he felt voting to place the hospital’s request on the agenda is the same as saying he supports giving the hospital the money, which he opposes.
Hunold does not agree with that. He told Tri States Public Radio that in no way would voting to place the item on the agenda mean he would have to vote in favor of giving the hospital the money. He said it’s possible he could eventually allow a vote on the funding request.
“But I wouldn’t say that until we have this meeting with everybody,” said Hunold. “I think that needs to come first.”
The meeting Hunold referred to was proposed by former Keokuk City Council member Rodger Whittaker. He said if Keokuk Area Hospital closes, the impact will be felt throughout the region. “If Keokuk Area Hospital is allowed to go out of business, these people are not going away,” he said.
The supervisors asked for volunteers to set up a meeting that would include representatives of Keokuk Area Hospital, Fort Madison Community Hospital, and Lee County EMS. Several people in the audience, including Dorothy Cackley of Keokuk and Mary Van Pelt of Montrose, said they would.
Hunold said he wants the meeting to also include Great River Medical Center in West Burlington and Blessing Hospital in Quincy. He believes they would be interested in such a meeting if they could make money.
“It depends on the debt [carried by KAH] and what they have done, restructuring-wise, to try to get out of that debt. It may or may not be working, we don’t know. If we knew that, life would be a little simpler. The ability to look at those books, wide-open, that would change a lot of things,” Hunold said.
The county has asked to review Keokuk Area Hospital’s financial records, but it hasn't been able to yet. Hunold said opening the books would go a long way with him because that would allow the county to see if a $111,000 contribution would make a difference.
The hospital’s CEO said during the meeting that he would approach the Board of Directors about the request. Joe Whiting also said time is running out on the current round of grant funding.
County Board Chairman Ron Fedler said until new information surfaces, such as financial records or the meeting on the effect of KAH closing, he will continue to deny requests to place the item on a meeting agenda.