Business

University of Iowa hospitals' growth a boon for economy

New Children's Hospital to add more than 250 positions

George Mejias, executive director for the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Capital Management talks about the features of a neonatal room during a tour showing a mock-up of the new space in Iowa City on Thursday, October 15, 2015. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
George Mejias, executive director for the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Capital Management talks about the features of a neonatal room during a tour showing a mock-up of the new space in Iowa City on Thursday, October 15, 2015. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — Now the tallest building in Iowa City, the new University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital is bringing more to town than 500,000-plus square feet of groundbreaking pediatric medicine and 134 patient beds.

It’s bringing jobs.

Hospital officials are seeking to fill more than 250 new positions in the $360 million facility, slated to begin treating patients Dec. 10. Most of those jobs are staff positions — such as housekeeping, pharmacists, nurses, clerks and technicians. About 27 are faculty posts — physicians and practitioners.

The 12-month cost of adding Children’s Hospital-specific staff members is expected to reach $16.5 million in the 2017 budget year, according to Scott Turner, executive director of the UI Children’s Hospital. The cost of adding faculty has not been factored, Turner said.

And experts say the new hospital’s economic value will extend beyond employment to the local housing, retail and dining markets.

“The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics is an economic engine for the region and a strong, stable employer,” said Rebecca Neades, Interim president and CEO for the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce. “The new Children’s Hospital will magnify the positive impact UIHC makes on its patients, staff and entire community.”

The 227 staff hires planned for the new hospital will add to the existing 982 full-time-equivalent positions directly supporting the Children’s Hospital, which right now is housed within the main UIHC campus.

The 27 pediatrics faculty recruits for the upcoming budget year will add to the 52 pediatric faculty hired over the past three years.

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“I would hazard to guess that would put us in some elite company with the number of recruitments we’ve done just in the pediatric faculty range,” Turner said.

The university is continuing its momentum in that area — with 10 of its planned 27 faculty hires committed to work in the new Children’s Hospital and three more in negotiations, according to Turner. As far as new staff, the university has hired the equivalent of 34.8 full-time employees to “operationalize the new building,” with another 28 committed to start later this summer or fall.

“The biggest group of those that we’ve hired are people in engineering services — people we need to make sure are introduced to the equipment and they get familiar with the equipment before we do what’s called building-commissioning,” Turner said.

Even though officials have hired just a fraction of those needed to run the massive children’s center, Turner said they’re sifting through applications. Since Feb. 3, when officials began specifically recruiting for the new hospital, they’ve received 1,061 applications — including 957 for various nursing positions.

Five-week training sessions for new staff and faculty will begin Oct .31. Other early hires could start working on the main campus or even in the nearly-ready Children’s Hospital before it opens, Turner said.

“We have some staff that are starting now,” he said. “Some of the facilities people are already making their way in and out of the building. Some of the housekeepers will start to pre-clean as we near construction completion on some of the patient floors.”

Several workers — such as pharmacy technicians and nurses — could get into their roles this summer, according to Turner.

“Some of these harder positions,” he said. “You’ve got to get them when you can.”

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‘Certain amount of stress’

The new hospital’s biggest staffing needs include perioperative nurses — those who care for patients before, during and after surgery — and pharmaceutical employees. Health care centers nationally have struggled of late to recruit and retain in both those areas, Turner said.

“Nursing and pharmacy are the two areas where we’ve got to make sure we are appropriately focused on trying to get the people that we need here,” he said. “We know that just by the sheer number of additional perioperative nurses that we have to recruit that we’ve got some work in front of us.”

UI Health Care held its first Children’s Hospital-specific job fair in early May in Iowa City, and Turner said it’s planning several more off-site recruitment fairs other communities.

“Pharmacy techs and (surgery) techs also across the country and the state are a scare commodity and being very creative about how we’re able to source those people is a core goal,” he said.

Still, Turner said, he doesn’t foresee any hiring hiccups preventing the hospital’s planned opening in December. It might, however, prompt the hospital to think creatively “across all the programs and services” about how to use existing staff. Perioperative nurses, for example, already work across various departments with both pediatric and adult specialties.

“These would be conversations we would need to continue to have internally,” he said. “But we could continue to maintain that kind of environment while we work to recruit the nurses we need.”

The physical space afforded by the new Children’s Hospital is expected to benefit the rest of the main UI Hospitals and Clinics campus, which has 728 staffed beds and annually admits more than 33,000 people for inpatient care.

Since January, the hospital has been packed — with the average daily census for inpatient beds at 654, or about 90 percent occupancy. According to a May report for the Board of Regents, the UIHC census has topped 670 on 11 days in 2016 — with the highest occupancy recorded March 10 at 698 beds, or 96 percent occupied.

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The university’s plan for handling the high census includes increased staffing among nursing units, nurse navigators and nurse practitioners. The new Children’s Hospital also will allow the main campus to add 61 private beds by summer 2018.

Jean Robillard, vice president for medical affairs with UI Health Care, along with Ken Kates, associate vice president for UI Health Care and CEO for UI Hospitals and Clinics, recently addressed the increase and demand for services in an email to employees.

“This growth has placed a certain amount of stress on our staff and facilities,” according to the email. “To help address the workload increase, we are actively seeking new staff in a number of areas. Right now, plans call for additional staff this year, with about half of those designated for the new UI Children’s Hospital.”

‘Serve even more patients’

The growth is expected to increase the institution’s economic impact — not just in Iowa City and Johnson County but across the state and region. The Iowa Hospital Association’s “2016 economic impact of the health sector” report shows the UIHC generating 8,693 jobs that have a $699.7 million effect on Iowa’s economy.

That’s the biggest impact of any single hospital or health care center in the state, and its 14 million more than in 2014. Des Moines’s Mercy Medical Center reported a $382.5 million impact and Cedar Rapids’s UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital reported a $219.3 million effect, according to the 2016 report.

The Iowa Hospital Association also credits UIHC for $194.4 million in retail sales, and Iowa City Chamber Interim President Neades attributed some of that to Iowa’s only comprehensive children’s hospital.

“The UI Children’s Hospital brings many families to the area and provides our shops, restaurants and hotels with more patrons,” she said. “Iowa City area businesses are looking forward to welcoming more UI Children’s Hospital families to our community as the new facility will be able to serve even more patients.”

Kerry Norrgard Gerhard, 57, of West Liberty, said she welcomes the influx of job opportunities as she’s currently unemployed. She attended the Children’s Hospital job fair last month with an open mind.

“I was kind of up for anything,” she said.

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And representatives working the fair helped her home in on opportunities for which she could apply — receptionist, supervisor or food service.

“I’m looking into working in the food and nutrition area,” Gerhard said, noting past experience in that area and other aspects of the hospital positions that excite her. “The location of the employer, its accessibility and the children, of course.”

The minimum rate of pay would be $12.89 an hour, which would exceed Johnson County’s minimum wage requirement, according to UIHC’s Turner.

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