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Keokuk city leaders stunned by hospital closure hope to secure new urgent care provider

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Keokuk city leaders are working to secure a 24-hour medical service provider after Blessing Health leaves town next month.

Mayor Kathie Mahoney said she and other city officials were stunned by Blessing Health’s announcement last week that the healthcare provider was closing its hospital in Keokuk on Oct. 1 and taking away 147 full-time jobs.

“We are shocked,” Mahoney said.

Blessing Health purchased the 49-bed hospital from UnityPoint Health in March 2021. In a news releases, Blessing cited consistently low demand for inpatient and emergency services as reasons for the hospital’s closing.

City Administrator Cole O’Donnell said he did not see it coming, either.

“It was completely out of left field,” O’Donnell said.

Ward 3 Councilmember Roslyn Garcia said she is very concerned about the community.

“This is devastating,” Garcia said.

O’Donnell said he and fellow city leaders are discussing possible solutions that would ensure a new medical service provider can fill the void. He said the city has reached out to other healthcare providers in town to see if they could provide 24-hour urgent care.

“The biggest thing is that right now we do not have any 24-hour medical service in Keokuk, come Oct. 1, not even at the urgent care level,” O’Donnell said.

Without an urgent care provider in town, residents would need to call 911 for emergencies and be taken to nearby hospitals in Carthage, Quincy, or Burlington for treatment.

O’Donnell also said the federal government recently passed a statute allowing rural communities to operate emergency rooms outside of traditional hospital buildings. However, those regulations won’t be effective until next year.

“It's our understanding that there is, right now, there is one rural emergency hospital in the state of Iowa, but I don't know where,” O’Donnell said. “And somebody else just said that there's one out there, but it's not looked upon favorably by Gov. (Kim) Reynolds, that she is not in favor of standalone emergency rooms. If that's the case, then again, we may need to look at what we need to do at the state level in order to get this so that we could do something like that.”

Less access to healthcare

Several rural hospitals have closed across the nation during the past decade. According to a study published last year by the Chartis Center for Rural Health, which tracks the health industry and patient migration trends, 138 rural hospitals closed across the country between 2010 and 2021.

Another 453 rural hospitals, almost 25 percent of all rural U.S. hospitals, were vulnerable to close. The data also revealed that rural populations are older, less healthy and less affluent than those in urban areas.

This has resulted in less access to healthcare and services, such as primary care, obstetrics and mental health services, in rural communities.

ADM closure also surprising

Blessing Health’s announcement Thursday follows ADM Milling Co.’s announcement the week before that it had permanently closed its food processing plant in town.

Council Member At-Large John Helenthal said ADM’s closure was just as surprising as the hospital’s sudden plans to close. He said workers at the ADM plant were conducting interviews to hire new workers when the company announced it was closing and selling the Keokuk plant.

“The employees at the plant were blindsided,” Helenthal said. But he is also said he is confident the city can find a new healthcare provider.

“I don’t think the city should beat itself up over it,” he said. “I think the city should pull itself together.”

Mahoney reassured the citizens who attended Thursday night’s city council meeting that she and city leaders will continue to find a healthcare provider.

“Please know that we are working nonstop to find a solution,” Mahoney said. “We will not stop until we find a solution.”

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.