Under review

Heinz Hall issue to be looked at by state legislative committees

After a heated town hall meeting earlier this week about the planned closure of residential Heinz Hall at the Iowa Veterans Home, two state legislative committees are set to review the proposal.

State Rep. Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown, said he spoke with House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, about the issue Thursday. He added the Iowa House Veterans Affairs Committee and the joint Health and Human Services Appropriations subcommittee will be looking into the planned closure of Heinz Hall.

“I don’t have any problem with that, I’m happy that two committees of the legislature are going to be looking into this issue,” he said.

Upon hearing the news, IVH Commandant Timon Oujiri said he was open to the committees looking into the issue.

“I welcome that,” he said, adding he had taken seriously the discussion from the town hall meeting at the facility on Monday. “I heard what they wanted, their concerns.”

Smith, who facilitated the town hall meeting, said the committees will determine the next steps.

“As far as any action, the first thing would be for the committee(s) to review and determine what’s happening, and then decide whether any further action in the legislature is needed, he said. “That would be the case regardless of the committee it goes to.”

But State Sen. Jeff Edler, R-State Center, who sits on the HHS Appropriations subcommittee, said the potential Heinz Hall closure is not, at this point, an issue for the subcommittee.

“It’s definitely not an HHS issue at this point, it has nothing to do with this plan,” he said. “If it comes, I can assure you we will take it in highest priority; that’s one of my highest priorities, is the veterans, and making sure they’re treated the way they need to be.”

Edler said he spoke to Oujiri after the potential closure was announced.

“I think the goal, the way it was articulated to me, was to really do what was in the best interest of the residents, and to try and get them into a facility that was updated,” he said. “I did come across some issues with that after finding out some more details that were some minor challenges that will need to be addressed should that plan go forward.”

In his talk with Upmeyer and her staff on Thursday, Smith said he voiced concerns about the planned closure.

“I just reviewed with them what my concerns were, that we’ve been on a long-term track of these residents having an individual room, and that I don’t want anything that takes away from that track,” he said. “It was clear that the residents say they want to stay in Heinz Hall.”

During the open meeting Monday, multiple residents shared their concerns about the planned closing of Heinz Hall and a subsequent move to the Sheeler Building. Many said they feared lack of personal space and privacy, and were concerned about an apparent lack of transparency from IVH administration.

Additionally, there were several calls for legislative review and action on the issue.

“I will continue to be monitoring this situation very closely,” Smith said.


Contact Adam Sodders at (641) 753-6611 or asodders@timesrepublican.com