Providing quality health care access close to home

By Ted Townsend / Guest Column

There’s an axiom that all health care, like politics, is local. Or perhaps it’s a cliché. At least in one local example it’s playing out extremely well.

In May, Jones Regional Medical Center, a critical access hospital in Anamosa, dedicated a new wing designed to support offering additional physician specialty services to the people in their community.

It’s the kind of addition many rural hospitals in Iowa would like to be doing but that few can. The reason is pretty simple. Jones Regional is part of a system that encourages as much care being delivered as close to the patient’s home as possible. The expansion almost doubled the size of the hospital and comes only seven years after the opening of their new facility in 2009.

No one expected it to grow so fast. Between the opening in 2009 and the beginning of expansion, Jones Regional was listed among the 40 fastest growing companies in the country two years in a row. The past two years it’s been named one of the nation’s Top 100 Critical Access Hospitals.

That doesn’t happen by accident. It starts with tremendous local support from community leaders in Jones County, demonstrated most profoundly with philanthropic support that totaled nearly $5.5 million over the two phases of construction, nearly a fifth of the entire cost of construction and equipping the new facilities.

But the real success came with the ability for local residents to get their care closer to home. Once the new hospital opened, the people of Jones County flooded back to their home community from wherever else they’d gone over the years because they could access affordable, high-quality physicians and services right next door.

That takes the cooperative efforts of local specialists willing to spend a part of their week driving to Anamosa. It takes the strategic support of organizations like UnityPoint Health, UnityPoint Clinic and the Physicians Clinic of Iowa among others.

Now, JRMC can offer a significantly broader array of services including a range of surgeries, cardiology and more in support of an already strong group of family practice primary care providers who also happen to be physically attached to the same building.

It’s a model campus for rural Iowa, balancing the needs of the community with the desires of progressive professionals to provide options away from the ivory tower that says, “we shall build it and they must come.”

There are still plenty of times when traveling to those more distant resources will still be the best answer for certain clinical needs. Some can only be provided in larger facilities and in places where there is a larger population to support the service but the key to this success is the commitment of providers to meet people where they are.

This is an entire new chapter in access to rural health care, and Jones Regional didn’t stop at just expanding facilities. They’ve also added a new Urgent Care Center to offer extended hours for access to physician services short of going to their busy emergency room.

In the first three months of this year they saw nearly 1,600 patient visits in urgent care while their ED volume decreased only by 350 visits. That means a new kind of access has been created that people in a small rural community away from the major population centers of Iowa City and Cedar Rapids wanted at convenient times they could get to and at a more affordable price than going to an emergency department.

There are two things that limit peoples’ access to health care – physical capacity and affordability – and Jones Regional is attacking both. By collaborating with specialist physicians at both PCI and UnityPoint Clinic, JRMC is providing more affordable options closer to home.

In the process they are better serving both their patients and their community, demonstrating that creative collaborations between progressive providers is a win-win for all. That’s good business.

Ted Townsend is president and CEO of UnityPoint Health Cedar Rapids.