Source: Cresco Times Plain Dealer

By Sara Stromseth-Troy

CRESCO -- Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) toured the Regional Health Services of Howard County’s new addition Friday as part of her  99 Iowa County Tour.

The Senator arrived at Regional Health Services’ new entrance, where she was greeted by CEO Robin Schluter. Also along for the tour were Paul Jensen, MD, Regional Health Services of Howard County Board of Trustees Vice Chair John Wacha III, Steven Burke, construction project lead, Cresco Mayor Mark Bohle,  Senator Mary Jo Wilhelm of Cresco (D-Iowa), and Jason Passmore, executive director of The Cresco Area Chamber of Commerce, among others. Schluter led Ernst on a tour of the hospital’s new addition, and Ernst greeted hospital staff along the way.  The senator saw the new the same-day surgery area, new patient rooms, the physical therapy area, the nursing station, the gymnasium and the OB.

The tour, which included informative commentary by Schluter and Jensen, also featured humor:?After Ernst met Bob Cobbs for the first time, she saw him again later in the tour and greeted him by name, which drew cheers from the crowd. When the tour group saw Cobbs a third time, joking commenced that Cobbs was either ‘three different people’ or simply ‘everywhere.’

At the start of the tour, Schluter said, “We added on 18,000 square feet, and we remodeled another 21,000. The community itself has raised over $2 million, so we’re really excited. This area has been open since June; we’re going to show you areas that we have finished and opened, and we’re also going to show you areas that are yet to be remodeled, so you can see where we came from.”

She continued, “Regional Health Service is owned and operated by Howard County, but we have a management contract with Mercy Health Network. We have the hospital and an attached medical clinic which is Cresco Medical Clinic.”

Schluter took Ernst past a display of historic items saved from the hospital’s previous incarnations.

“We didn’t want to forget the history, so not only did we have a display of the items from the Sisters of Mercy from the beginning of the hospital, but we also put in a timeline of major milestones from the facility,” she said.

Private rooms

Schluter discussed aspects of the design with Ernst. “One of the things we were able to do with our construction was to create private rooms for our patients, which is really the standard experience.”

Schluter described the 3P Process, where the facility was originally built out of cardboard, to make sure it works for patients and providers.

“You’ll find a lot of efficiencies not only in the room design, but also in the construction of the facility,” she said.

Schluter said every patient room is exactly the same, so providers who are filling in or on a side of the hospital that they are not usually on during their shifts know where to find things.

Physical Therapy

Ernst asked, “What is typical for your physical therapy??Is it the older population or is it the younger population?”

Jensen answered that both populations were served frequently.

“We do a lot of skilled care because of  folks with joint replacements, but there are a lot of other things, like sports injuries, so it runs the gamut,” he said.

“Even if a community member needs to go to a larger facility for a service we don’t provide, it’s nice for them to be able to do the rehab close to home, so they are closer to family, and transportation isn’t an issue,” Schluter added.

Ernst said, “That’s  a huge issue for a lot of elderly folks. In my area, they don’t want to go to Omaha; they don’t want to  be transported to Des Moines to do things like that.”

Jensen said, “This is a big service and big help for them  and the community, and it’s at a time when you are the least mobile, and it’s an economic issue if you have family members taking time off of work.”

Schluter said, “It’s like the campaign to create care closer to home for veterans, and opening the system for access.?Our seniors deserve that too, and a critical access hospital system really allows that. Going 60 miles is a long way when you don’t feel well, or you’re an elderly driver or the weather is bad.”


Schluter took Ernst to the gymnasium area, and described how they are opening up the area for use.

“The other thing we wanted to do because the community invested  so much in us, is how do we open this up even broader.  From a wellness perspective, our staff and volunteers can use the equipment outside of patient care hours,” Schluter said.

As she toured the new addition, Ernst said, “This is gorgeous, and there is room to move around, and it seems very comfortable.”

Schluter led Ernst and the tour group through  an unmodelled  area.

“We wanted to show you the ‘before’ and ‘after,’ because the investment the community is making  is in efficiency, technology, and a higher level of care that they really deserve,” Schluter said.

eEmergency Program

Schluter described the new eEmergency program.“Regional Health Services received a grant for $289,046 from the (Leona M.  and Harry B.) Helmsley  Charitable Trust to establish the eEmergency program.”

According to the Regional Health Services “Life and Health”?magazine, after its implementation, Regional Health Services will become “the first facility  in Northeast Iowa with immediate access to board-certified emergency medicine physicians.”

The eEmergency team allows rural hospitals to  access support during difficult  and multiple-emergency cases; initiate diagnostic testing sooner, and streamline emergency transfers.

Ernst said, “Make sure you provide some feedback  after that, too; that would be wonderful.”


Schluter took Ernst through the Cresco Family Pharmacy.

“We did a lot of homework, and Dr. Jensen, in addition to  being a physician, is also a pharmacist, so he  was very instrumental  in our design,” Schluter  said. “We had an add-on vote, and in about eight months, we built a retail pharmacy.”

Baby-Friendly Initiative  

Dr. Jensen told Ernst about Regional Health Services’ designation as a Baby-Friendly facility.

“‘Baby Friendly’ is an initiative started by the World Health Organization about the importance about how we provide not only prenatal and labor care, but especially  baby care after the birth, and the  importance of  beast feeding, appropriate nutrition, bonding and those sorts of things. It’s been a great thing to see how we can do a better job to provide that bonding and encourage the best nutrition for the babies.”

He continued, “It’s a pretty big process to be certified ‘Baby Friendly’; it actually took  us several years. It was initiated by one of my partners who has since moved on to  a different facility; we miss her greatly. The process  and what we learned and how we improved has provided a much better experience, not just for moms and babies, but also  for the staff, which is important as well. It’s a pretty big feather in our cap to pull this off.”

Schluter said, ‘We weren’t the first (facility)?to apply, but we were the first to pass (in the  state of Iowa), and we were able to announce that at the opening of our grand entrance last summer.”

Family Room

The final  part of the tour showcased the new family waiting room, which is compete with a fireplace and television.

Schluter said, “The  purpose of this room is:?You live in Howard County, perhaps your parent is not doing well, the weather is bad, it’s not safe for you to travel home. You can stay here. It’s like a mini Ronald McDonald House.”

She continued, “The room has already been used several times. Our staff as a whole felt so strongly about this, that this is what they wanted to dedicate their money to as part of the capital campaign”

Jensen described how families who were awaiting a new baby would sometimes gather in the family room.

Ernst said, “I haven’t seen anything like this so far; this is really well done.”

Schluter said, “The community has put a lot of thought, effort, money and investment into this facility, and it shows.”

Ernst said she is looking forward to returning to Regional Health Service to see how the telemedicine  is progressing.

‘Extremely impressive’

After the tour, Ernst said, “It’s an extremely impressive facility; it’s beautiful and the community should be very proud.”

She continued, “A lot of our critical access hospitals are trying to update their facilities, and I’ve seen some really unique things here (at Regional Health Services). The area we are in right now, where family members can come and stay overnight if need be, is something I’ve not seen in another facility. It’s a great idea. The communication system outside the wall outside  one of the patient rooms is something I?had never seen before, either, but it interacts with the nurse’s phone, so they know if something is needed or they are being called for something.”

Ernst described how residents of Howard County can reach out to her:

“We have an office in Cedar Rapids. People can reach out to the Des Moines office, as well. Call in, or we have a website. We have caseworkers that are out in these communities, traveling all of the time. We want to make sure if there is a Medicare issue, Social Security issue, a veteran is having trouble accessing the Veterans Affairs, or any issue at the federal level where they need assistance -- that we are ready to step in and help them in any way that they can.”

Ernst:?Regional Health Services ‘a gem’

Ernst said she is pleased to see a facility like Regional Health Services in an area with a small population base like Howard County.

“I’m excited that they do have a facility of this quality in their community. I’ve been visiting here with State Senator Mary Jo Wilhelm,  and (Howard County)?is a small county, under 10,000, and that’s so typical of many of our counties across Iowa. To have a gem like (Regional Health Services) in the community will keep residents here in the county, because they know they have great access to quality health care.”              

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