UIHC’s pro-business ethos

The University of Iowa has had a love-hate relationship with the business community for decades. The hiring of businessman Bruce Harreld as the UI president laid bare this conflict, so it was refreshing to hear Suresh Gunasekaran, CEO of the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics, clearly state at the CBJ’s Economic Forecast Luncheon in January that, “We see ourselves as really a member of the business community.”

Mr. Gunasekaran continued that the UIHC wants to partner with the business community and be an economic development leader in the Corridor and across the state.

We appreciate and value his comments. It’s that type of unequivocal pro-business sentiment that we would like to see from Iowa leaders across all sectors of industry and government.

An underlying conflict could arise, however, when a government entity seemingly starts to unfairly compete with the private sector, something we are especially cautious about.

This potential conflict was elevated over the past several months with a proposed new $230 million UIHC hospital in North Liberty, which,  on the surface, could appear to compete unfairly with existing hospitals, specifically Mercy Iowa City.

Mr. Gunasekaran assured us in a recent editorial board meeting that simply wouldn’t happen.

“Mercy Iowa City patients are not going to go to the North Liberty (hospital),” said Mr. Gunasekaran. “They’re just not.”

The North Liberty hospital simply would have different patient populations, most from outside of the Corridor region, he said.

The bigger issue about potential unfairness in health care goes back to Mr. Gunasekaran’s overall approach to economic development, which is essentially that a rising tide lifts all boats, – or in this case, a growing economy helps all health care providers.

“The most unfair health care system is the one that happens in a contracting economy,” said Mr. Gunasekaran. “The first thing that happens is doctors don’t want to practice in your market.”

Fortunately, we live in a growing region, one of the few in the state. We have a great health care system with many excellent health care institutions.

Clearly the UIHC is an economic driver for the region. We should continue to let it drive. While admittedly costly, a new UIHC hospital in North Liberty shouldn’t impact Mercy Iowa City, if Mr. Gunasekaran’s comments prove true.

We know that the UIHC will be a decision by the State Health Facilities Health Council, which denied a certificate of need application for the North Liberty facility by a 3-2 vote in February.

We would like to see the UIHC clearly illustrate to the State Health Facilities Council that it won’t compete directly with Mercy Iowa City.

Once this is done, the council should approve the new hospital and we should get the region refocused on growth so that unfairness doesn’t infect the health care system – or any other industry.