Continuing Care Hospital provides long-term care for Iowa's critically ill

Hospital-within-a-hospital is one of only three of its kind in Iowa

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CEDAR RAPIDS — When it was time for 72-year-old Jim Herren to be discharged from UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital, he wasn’t quite well enough to go home.

Herren has COPD — a chronic pulmonary disease that makes it difficult for him to breath — and part of his lungs have deteriorated. Once he got home, he had to come right back.

So doctors transferred him to the sixth floor of St. Luke’s — to UnityPoint Health’s Continuing Care Hospital, a hospital within a hospital.

“I wasn’t quite sure where I was going when they brought me up here,” he said. “But they told me it’d be more long-term.”

The long-term acute-care hospital sees the “sickest of the sick,” said Elly Steffen, the administrator and CEO — those who no longer need to be in an intensive care unit but are not able to be transferred to a skilled nursing facility or back home.

It’s quieter than an intensive care unit, has larger rooms to accommodate family visits and builds services such as therapy, wound care, spiritual services and social work around patients. The hospital builds a care plan built over a longer period of time and involves families in the plan, she said.

“Medicare recognized that this level of care was a good service — wrapping services around patients can be a benefit by reducing readmissions, reducing the cost of care, getting people out of the ICU, reducing the length of stay overall and providing a better patient experience,” she said.

Continuing Care Hospital — which opened in 2008 — cares for people with respiratory issues and on ventilators, those who have experienced severe trauma, have brain injuries or post-surgical complications and patients with sepsis — a complication brought on by an infection.

The 24-bed hospital sees about 175 patients a year.

It also has a much longer average length of stay for patients than normal hospitals — about 25 days compared with about six days at St. Luke’s, Steffen said.

The hospital has admitted patients from more than two-thirds of Iowa’s counties, and cities across the state, including Iowa City, Waterloo, Mason City, Fort Dodge and Des Moines. That’s because there are only three long-term acute-care hospital’s in the state — one in Des Moines and one in Davenport.

“It’s still a new service line in the state,” Steffen said.

After a 35-day stay, Herren is now home — he was discharged at the end of March. His brother and sister, a registered nurse, help care for him. He regularly visits the staff at Continuing Care Hospital, whom he said made him comfortable during a very miserable time.

“You’re all out of sorts,” he said. “You’ve got wires going in you and pipes coming out of you.

“As far as this hospital is concerned, I’d recommend it to anyone and everyone.”

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