116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Home / News / Health Care and Medicine
With packed emergency rooms, Corridor hospitals expanding
Mercy and St. Luke’s both announce they’ll open facilities in Marion
Emergency rooms across Eastern Iowa are bending under ballooning patient demand that’s triggered long wait times, delayed care and needs going unmet — prompting hospitals across the Corridor to seek more space though expansion and construction.
UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids on Thursday became the region’s latest health care system to announce plans to open an off-campus emergency department — with its new Marion site expected to open in summer 2024. That’s the same year and city in which Mercy Medical Center last week said it will debut new emergency room services away from its main Cedar Rapids campus.
“Opening an off-campus ER in Marion helps us serve this community better by offering a faster, closer, more convenient option for timely, lifesaving emergency care,” said Ryan Sundermann, St. Luke’s emergency department medical director. “Time is of the essence in emergency care. This Marion location will save valuable minutes for patients and their families.”
Mercy Cedar Rapids’ upcoming Marion-based stand-alone emergency department, at 3701 Katz Dr., piggybacks on its first off-site ER opened in 2020. That stand-alone location in Hiawatha was Iowa’s first emergency room outside a hospital setting.
“Patient and public response to the Hiawatha location has been extremely positive,” Mercy President and Chief Executive Officer Timothy Quinn said in a statement. “The greater Hiawatha community also has been tremendously supportive; people really love the convenience and service the location has provided, and our goal is to replicate that for other communities.”
Both Mercy and St. Luke’s said they conducted extensive planning and needs assessments for their expansions into the fast-growing Marion.
St. Luke’s main-campus emergency department in Cedar Rapids has seen increasing patient volumes — a trend also reported at Mercy Cedar Rapids and the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City.
Michelle Niermann, UnityPoint Health-Cedar Rapids president and CEO, said Thursday that’s the result of several factors — including Iowa’s aging population and delayed health care during the pandemic.
“Our emergency department here at St. Luke's, and frankly Mercy's main campus ED as well, are really two of the busiest single-site EDs in the state — these are just very busy EDs,” Niermann said, noting St. Luke’s is part of a larger UnityPoint Health System. “Our ED here at St. Luke's is the largest of any ED anywhere in UnityPoint Health.”
That congestion, she said, is happening in a space "not suitable for further expansion.”
Construction of St. Luke’s new Marion ER will start this spring and wrap in summer 2024. It will be open 24 hours, seven days a week and will be capable of caring for patients “with illnesses and injuries that require a higher level of care than an urgent care offers.”
The facility will feature emergency care in 12 private rooms, plus advanced imaging and testing. It will host an on-site laboratory and pharmacy, staffed by 20 to 25 full-time employees, excluding physicians.
St. Luke’s officials said they waited to announce their coming Marion ER until securing the site at 3301 Armar Dr. and receiving the State Health Facility Council’s determination this week that the project doesn’t require review.
Just 3 miles away, Mercy’s location also will be open 24/7 and offer on-site radiology and lab services, too. Patients who come there who need additional hospital care are transferred to Mercy’s downtown location for free, in partnership with ambulance services — the same as happens now at its Hiawatha location.
Health care boom
Like the Marion-based off-site emergency departments associated with St. Luke’s and Mercy, the UI expects to complete construction of its massive 469,000-square-foot, $525.6 million hospital in North Liberty in 2024.
That UIHC project includes a new 18,437-square-foot emergency room to alleviate the UIHC’s also increasingly crowded main-campus emergency department — reporting soaring wait times, longer stays and more patients leaving without being seen.
“Due to high capacity rates and overall high acuity, almost 4 percent of patients chose to leave before being seen,” according to the university’s state application to build in North Liberty. “These approximately 2,000 patients arrived at UIHC to receive emergency services, but due to high patient acuity and inpatient occupancy slowing down care, they left.”
Citing a “significant gap in access” UIHC said its North Liberty ER is a “critical component of the proposed health care campus.”
“The emergency treatment center in the North Liberty facility is estimated to see 20,600 projected visits per year,” it said. The university, additionally, is spending $24.6 million to renovate and expand its main campus emergency room in Iowa City.
For its new North Liberty emergency department, UIHC said it needs the equivalent of 32 full-time employees, according to its state application.
With health care worker shortages plaguing the nation, though, some question how the hospitals will staff all their growth.
“This is relatively small in comparison to some of the things that we're seeing developed out there, particularly in the Iowa City area,” Niermann said of St. Luke’s new ER and its staffing needs.
“I'm not saying it won't be without challenge,” she said. “But I think there are harder things out there to fill and to be successful in getting staffed.”
And, she said, “We’ve got 18 months, so I feel good about our ability to have what we need.”
Comments: (319) 339-3158; email@example.com