IOWA CITY — Reversing a move last year that pulled four providers out of one of Iowa’s fastest growing communities, University of Iowa Health Care is adding three practitioners back into its North Liberty family medicine clinic and opening a new urgent care clinic in Coralville.
A 5,320-square-foot UI Health Care-Holiday Road Urgent Care clinic is slated to begin offering services in early 2020 at 2591 Holiday Road in Coralville.
UI urgent care sites differ from UI QuickCare clinics in that they hold longer hours — including evenings and weekends — and provide more services like X-rays, IV fluids and stitches in hopes of helping patients avoid costly trips to the emergency room.
The university has five QuickCare clinics in Johnson County and recently opened its first urgent care clinic along Scott Boulevard in Iowa City. The new Coralville urgent care project is expected to cost $1.8 million — below the threshold requiring Board of Regents approval, although the board was informed, according to hospital spokesman Tom Moore.
Because the project didn’t require board approval, Moore said, “We can move forward quickly with the renovation and expand access to those services as soon as possible.”
Bidding on the project is scheduled to begin in July, he said.
Just 2 miles north on Highway 965, UIHC last summer trimmed its services to that part of the community by halting family medicine services at its 3 Lions Drive location in North Liberty.
It dispersed that site’s four displaced providers to other locations. One of those, Katharine Saunders, who was moved to Iowa River Landing-East in Coralville, will return July 1 to North Liberty as one of two family medicine clinicians pegged to join a team of four UIHC pediatric providers at the North Liberty clinic at 1765 Lininger lane.
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Saunders — along with Safa Abukhalil and eventually a third new provider being recruited — will bring the provider total there to seven, according to Moore.
When asked why UIHC moved the four practitioners out of North Liberty in the first place, Moore said the moves were “to better serve patients.”
UIHC has not answered questions from The Gazette about how the move impacted the hospital financially.
A letter sent to patient families in April 2018 about the reduction in North Liberty services didn’t provide any explanation, but conceded, “We understand this change may be inconvenient, and are glad to work with you to ensure a smooth transition to another provider if you desire.”
Among those critical of the change at the time was North Liberty Mayor Terry Donahue.
“It was a major mistake on their part to pull out last year,” he said in an interview this month.
Now, “I’m glad to see them making more direct contact and patient contact with our citizens here in North Liberty,” Donahue said. “I’m glad to see them start making inroads and start serving our people again.”
U.S. Census Bureau population estimates from 2018 show North Liberty was the fifth-fastest growing city in Iowa so far this decade — a 40.5 percent growth rate.
Although UIHC continues to lease space on Lions Drive in North Liberty for dialysis and occupational health services, Donahue said the area it occupied before last summer’s departure remains vacant. It’s unclear whether UIHC continues to hold that lease.
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UIHC also owns land at Forevergreen Road and Highway 965 that for years has remained undeveloped — even while promising something will be “coming soon.”
Moore didn’t answer questions from The Gazette about what UIHC has planned for that site.
“There is no change in the status of the Forevergreen Road site,” he said.
Mayor Donahue said he, too, would like to know the status as his community continues to boom with the opening of a Hy-Vee nearby and a new exit off Interstate 380 at Forever Green Road in the works.
“I really don’t know why it’s been left empty so long,” he said. “This is way too long.”
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