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Keokuk Approves Hospital Funding; Lee County Next?

Jason Parrott

There were not enough aldermen at the Keokuk City Council's Jan. 7 meeting to vote on a request from Keokuk Area Hospital for roughly $111,000, so the hospital had to wait until Jan. 12. The wait was worth it, though, as aldermen unanimously approved the request.

Duane Fitch, who heads the firm that manages the hospital, said this is a step forward in the ongoing turnaround of the facility. "The city has been supportive of the hospital for a long, long time and certainly today's action reflected that support and we are encouraged by it," Fitch said.

Fitch said KAH is eligible for federal dollars available to facilities that do not receive enough money from Medicare or Medicaid to cover the cost of the services provided. The requirement is a local match.

So in this case, the $111,000 from the city will net the hospital roughly $140,000.

  Sandy Pollitt, 5th Ward Alderwoman, pointed out that her family has used the hospital recently and that she could not imagine being forced to drive to another community for health care.

"I just can't see anything else we should do," said Pollitt. "If we are going to do anything to help our citizens and help our community, we need to do this."

Ron Payne, 3rd Ward Alderman, echoed those thoughts, even with the city not being in a position to give away money.

"The service that it provides to the community, to think that is no longer there kind of gives you a shutter," said Payne. "I too, like Sandy, not recently, had to use the facilities at the hospital and I am telling you, I would rather drive five minutes to the emergency room than a half-hour to someplace else."

Mike O'Connor, 1st Ward Alderman, also said he supported the hospital in general, but he was quite forceful in questioning the request, especially since Keokuk had already given the hospital more than $200,000 since 2013.

"I agree that we need a viable, well-run hospital in Keokuk," said O'Connor. "I just question if it is being managed properly, what's happening. When they came last time, asking for a bailout, they had a plan. They said the reason they needed this money is to get out from under the debt load so we can get to a positive cash flow. It's a turnaround process that's been going on for some three years and I don't know what the plan is."

O'Connor went on to ask:

  • What impact does $100,000 from the city have on a $1-million+ deficit?
  • What is the plan for the next one or two years?
  • What is the hospital paying Fitch to turn KAH around?

No one from the hospital spoke during the special meeting. Fitch told TSPR after the meeting that the cost charged by his firm is constantly reviewed, but he would not disclose the amount.
O'Connor did attempt to table the vote to try to get his questions answered, but no one supported his attempt, so he voted yes, after a roughly five-second pause. "Save the Hospital. I just wish we had the assurance that it would save the hospital. By God, everyone knows we need it and want it, so... Aye."

Many of the questions asked by O'Connor are also being asked by the Lee County Board of Supervisors, which at this point has refused to act on the hospital's request for another roughly $111,000. A contribution of that size would net the hospital another $140,000.

That is unlikely to occur, though, as Lee County Board Chairman Ron Fedler has said multiple times that there is not enough support to approve the request, so he will not allow a vote on it.

Fedler, along with Supervisors Rick Larkin and Don Hunold, have said they oppose giving the hospital any more money, since the county has contributed more than $200,000 since 2013.

Fedler did agree to allow up to three representatives of the hospital to meet with the board to discuss the request only, without holding a vote.

That was originally scheduled for Tues., Jan. 12, and placed on the agenda as "Update from Keokuk Area Hospital. But the county did not inform the hospital of the meeting, so no one attended. Several board members said they wanted to see how the Keokuk City Council voted before extending the invite.

Tom Marion, Keokuk Mayor, is optimistic about the city's contribution. "We need a hospital," said Marion. "We desperately need a hospital for quality of life. When people come in here looking to start a business or bring something here, they look at quality of life, schools, hospitals. If we don't have a hospital, we are in a real negative situation with recruitment. The other thing that is very important is job recruitment. We have lost 200 jobs at Keokuk Steel Castings. We can't lose 300 jobs from the hospital."

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.