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Mercy Iowa City to open new rehabilitation hospital

Officials confident in taking new patients amid pandemic

Mercy Iowa City Rehabilitation Hospital Chief Executive Officer Laura Phipps gives a tour last Wednesday of the therapy
Mercy Iowa City Rehabilitation Hospital Chief Executive Officer Laura Phipps gives a tour last Wednesday of the therapy gym at Mercy Rehabilitation Hospital in Coralville. The new $23 million rehabilitation hospital will offer 40 patient beds. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CORALVILLE — Pandemic or not, Eastern Iowans still will need rehabilitation care, Mercy Iowa City officials say as they prepare to open a new hospital this week.

Mercy Iowa City will open doors Thursday to the first patients in the $23 million, 40-bed rehabilitation hospital.

“We are very much in the mode of providing care while living in this new reality of COVID-19, but it’s something we’ve done for years,” said Mercy Iowa City Chief Executive Officer Sean Williams. “Treating people with infectious diseases safely, from an emergency perspective, from a rehab perspective, from a surgical perspective, is something that’s been done for over a century.”

The free-standing facility, at 2801 Heartland Drive in Coralville, offers inpatient rehabilitation services including physical, occupational and speech therapy, among other services.

The hospital is expected to care for about 1,000 patients per year who have suffered strokes, spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries and other conditions that require rehabilitation following a hospital stay.

The majority of the patients at Mercy Rehabilitation Hospital will be stroke patients, said Laura Phipps, its new chief executive officer.

Phipps said Mercy Rehabilitation Hospital will have capacity to care for COVID-19 positive patients or those recovering from the novel coronavirus, and can even have the ability to convert an entire unit to those patients should the need arise.

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Across the country, hospitals have reported a declining number of emergency room visits and other appointments, prompting physicians’ worries that patients may be avoiding hospitals for even necessary services for fear of COVID-19.

“The need for care is not going away,” Williams said. “In fact, some of the cases that were delayed initially and considered elective have quickly become non-elective as time goes on. ... If you’re having a stroke or had a stroke or had a heart attack or spinal cord injury, you need care.

After operating under an incident command system for close to three months now, Williams said Mercy Iowa City providers and other hospital officials feel “very comfortable” in treating coronavirus patients and keeping other patients and staff healthy. He emphasized that whether a patient is at Mercy Rehabilitation Hospital, or its main hospital and its clinics, “it’s the safest places you can be.”

“What we’ve come to learn is that we can absolutely provide care in this environment at all levels, including individuals that have COVID-19 and other infectious diseases, and do it safely,” he said.

The $23 million project, which included the $7.5 million construction of the hospital itself, is co-owned with Louisville, Ky.-based Kindred, a post-acute-care provider that specializes in these partnerships.

This is the second rehabilitation hospital built in Iowa through a partnership between Kindred and MercyOne, the health system network that includes Mercy Iowa City. The first hospital, a $21 million, 50-bed facility in Clive, opened last June.

Mercy Rehabilitation Hospital is a two-floor facility that houses four units, 22 beds on the first floor and 18 beds on the second floor.

The facility also includes an indoor gym with equipment to help patients learn how to walk and how to perform tasks such as getting in and out of a car. Outside is another therapy space with a pickleball court, raised garden beds and a putting range.

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The second floor houses a separate 12-bed unit for traumatic brain injuries, including its own interdisciplinary gym, built to decrease the noise level and other excess stimulation to those patients.

Patients and their families also will have access to a transitional living space, a one-bedroom apartment within the facility with its own kitchen and laundry facilities. Phipps said the suite will help patients relearn daily tasks, such as washing dishes, and is meant to help patients and their loved ones transition back home before their discharge.

Mercy and Kindred’s project was approved by the State Health Facilities Council in fall 2018, but it wasn’t the only proposal for a Coralville-based rehabilitation hospital approved by the state board.

A $27 million, 40-bed rehabilitation hospital put forth by Birmingham, Ala.-based post-acute-care provider Encompass Health in partnership with University of Iowa Health Care is set to be built on the southwest corner of Oakdale Boulevard and Coral Court in Coralville.

The facility is also designed to house patients recovering from post-acute medical care, including strokes, spinal cord injuries, complex orthopedic conditions and other neurological disorders.

“It was identified during the decision to come to this area that there are 74 rehabilitation beds needed on a daily basis in this area. So while Encompass is opening right around the same time, it’s not going to be a problem to keep both facilities full,” Phipps said. “By providing the services to the community, we’re jointly able to care for all the patients’ needed service.”

Comments: (319) 398-8469; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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