CORONAVIRUS

New University of Iowa rehab hospital sees need from coronavirus patients, too

Demand expected for more medical rehabilitation in the area

University of Iowa Health Care is partnering with Encompass Health Corp. to build a new 40-bed rehabilitation inpatient
University of Iowa Health Care is partnering with Encompass Health Corp. to build a new 40-bed rehabilitation inpatient hospital in Coralville, which is set to open next week. (Artist rendering)

IOWA CITY — The novel coronavirus that has capsized most every aspect of life has not stopped strokes. It has not eradicated heart attacks, spinal cord damage or other injuries requiring rehabilitation.

In fact, some of those who have contracted severe cases of COVID-19 are requiring recovery and therapeutic support, too — making rehabilitation hospitals like the one University of Iowa Health Care is opening next week with Encompass Health particularly needed in the pandemic.

“For patients who are actively in an acute COVID state, they typically are requiring more of the acute care facility needs,” Amanda Olderog, chief executive officer of the new rehab hospital, told The Gazette. “But once they’re in that recovery phase, and they’re ready to move on to rehabilitation, then those are the patients that come to us.”

The new $27 million, 40-bed UI Health Network Rehabilitation Hospital on the corner of Oakdale Boulevard and Coral Court in Coralville is set to open Monday, with patients already being referred. Referrals, coming from UI Hospitals and Clinics and other health care providers, involve patients expecting to be discharged in the coming days — meaning officials don’t know exactly how many patients the new facility will admit on day one, said UIHC spokeswoman Laura Shoemaker.

“We expect to fully ramp up services gradually,” Shoemaker said. “But there is a great need for rehabilitation services in our community.”

At the same time UIHC is debuting its new rehab hospital next week — in partnership with Alabama-based Encompass Health — Mercy Iowa City this week opened a 40-bed inpatient rehab hospital of its own, part of collaboration with Kentucky-based Kindred Healthcare.

The state in 2018 allowed both projects to proceed after validating the need for them.

“Until now, there were no inpatient rehabilitation services available in the Iowa City area — the nearest locations were Cedar Rapids,” Shoemaker said.

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Encompass — which provides patient care across 37 states and Puerto Rico in 133 hospitals, 245 home health locations and 83 hospice units — more than a year ago announced plans to build its first inpatient hospital in Iowa, before joining forces with UIHC.

The partnership that emerged gives Encompass both management and financial control and tasks UIHC with supplying health care providers — part of what made the university comfortable with the collaboration and the facility’s ability to take on patients with complex needs.

“We’ll be working exclusively with University of Iowa physicians,” Olderog said, noting providers will specialize in physical medicine, rehabilitation and other support capacities. “We have a pretty comprehensive team.”

The hospital already has more than 90 employees, with more than 10 UIHC hospitalists credentialed to start treating patients. Additionally, it’s hiring 28 support staff — including a registered dietitian, nurse supervisor, respiratory and physical therapists and registered nurses.

Among the patients the facility will take are those recovering from significant illnesses and injuries like strokes, brain trauma, amputations, transplants and spinal cord damage. The patients must be able to withstand three hours of therapy a day but still need medical oversight.

That undoubtedly will include coronavirus patients. Olderog noted the “very significant challenges that are being posed to people who have gone through the COVID experience.”

“Those are patients that we are very much looking forward to helping and getting them back to their independence and to their functionality so that they can go home,” she said.

Encompass has treated coronavirus patients in some of its other facilities nationally.

“So that is absolutely something that we anticipate,” she said. “If we continue to see that need in our community, then we are absolutely here to be able to serve those patients. And we’d be very proud to do so.”

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The new Coralville rehab hospital has designated space for any COVID-19 patients who might still require isolation.

The hospital will work under UIHC guidance, policies and practices for dealing with and preventing virus spread.

In addition to its isolation space, the new hospital at 2450 Coral Court has a therapy gym, outdoor courtyard and room for advanced technologies. Its 40 rooms are private, meaning patients don’t have to share.

Olderog — who this week helped celebrate the opening via a virtual ribbon cutting with an array of UIHC dignitaries, like CEO Suresh Gunasekaran and Chief Financial Officer Bradley Haws — said she’s experienced firsthand what skilled rehab services can mean to patients.

Her husband — about two years ago at age 42 — had a stroke, a more uncommon type, and experienced impaired balance among other things. When he thought he was walking upright, a nurse or therapist was using his or her entire weight to keep him balanced.

“He was not able to go home and be safe, and that was something that he had to ultimately relearn,” Olderog said. “So when we provide care, it’s very individualized, it’s very specific to the needs of the patient.”

“And I just know from my personal experience the difference that makes, when you have that truly comprehensive care.”

Fear of contracting COVID-19 is keeping some non-coronavirus patients from seeking preventive care or help for heart attack and stroke symptoms. Those who ignore the symptoms for too long could have bad outcomes — and need skilled rehab facilities even more.

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“They say time is brain,” she said about delayed care. “It’s terrifying to me to think of the long-term consequences that may come from people delaying or avoiding care because of fear.”

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please donate. Your contribution will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.

All donations are tax-deductible.