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UnityPoint must align itself with community needs

During a recent media interview, I was asked to comment on the closing of Marshalltown’s UnityPoint Obstetrics Unit and Women’s Health Clinic. Visions of welcoming each of my four children and eight grandchildren into the world raced through my head. I held each one of them for the first time in the Marshalltown maternity ward. Every one of them was born in the Marshalltown OB unit, which I recently voted to soon close. Never in my life did any of my visions for our local hospital fail to include an OB unit.

If this was just a “business decision,” it would have closed much earlier. Instead, extensive efforts were made behind the scenes to rectify two specific underlying issues. First, we needed a strong base of obstetric providers to support the service expectations of our local mothers. Unknown to the public, UnityPoint’s leadership led extensive recruiting efforts to try to get obstetricians to live and serve our Marshalltown community. All those efforts confirmed the realization that this nation is facing a significant shortage of OB/GYN providers, and the state of Iowa tops that list. Second, for whatever personal reasons, a majority of the expecting mothers in the Marshalltown community and region have chosen to seek care outside of Marshalltown. We were unable to redirect that local trend.

UnityPoint is non-profit organization – we do not have shareholders. For that reason, our resources are routed back into our services and compensation for our valued employees. However, non-profit status does not free us from the responsibility to be fiscally sound. We are guided by what medical services our community needs and is willing to support. We may be told in the local coffee shops what Marshalltown wants, but only until a patient walks through our front door do we get confirmation of what Marshalltown needs.

Three service lines (Cath Lab, ICU, and OB) have closed in the last year. Each of the three services had the same reoccurring challenges – not enough patients, inability to recruit providers, and the escalating costs to maintain these service lines. The actions taken by the board to “right the ship” have allowed UnityPoint Health – Marshalltown to better align itself with the services our community needs and will support. We’re also able to allocate more resources to the service lines our community has found to be successful. Our emergency services, primary care, urgent care and outpatient surgery remains viable far into the future.

Have you ever seen the TV show “Fixer Upper” on HGTV? Chip and Joanna Gaines take older outdated homes that historically served families very well in the past, but with its current condition, its future is in question. The new family has different needs and purposes for the home. Chip and Joanna make major changes – knocking down walls, retrofitting rooms for new purposes, and in the end … the old home becomes the perfect home by meeting the needs of the new buyer. Our hospital situation is not exactly the same, but it has some parallels. It is rich in community history, yet its purpose and functions needed changed. And, when all is done, I hope UnityPoint Health – Marshalltown is your “home” for quality health care.