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Featuring hospital and health care headlines from the media and Web from December 19-December 24.

Iowa Headlines

crestonInformational Cure
Greater Regional Medical Center is taking audio-video technology and using it to help prepare and educate its patients on surgery and therapy. The hospital is currently working on a video about Greater Regional Cancer Center and its radiation therapies. The educational video will be played in waiting rooms and on the new GRMC Web site that will debut in February.  (December 23, Creston News Advertiser)

Mercy’s new psychiatric unit does not include more beds
The lack of beds reflects another deficiency in the mental-health system: a statewide shortage of psychiatrists. Mercy maintained its capacity after discussions with its psychiatrist providers about manageable patient ratios. (December 21, Dubuque Telegraph Herald)

Loebsack honors ‘Iowans Who serve’
During this season of giving, an elected official said he wanted to visit those who give all year long. Congressman Dave Loebsack, the Democrat representing Iowa’s 2nd District, continued his “Highlighting Iowans Who Serve” tour by visiting the McCreery Cancer Center at Ottumwa Regional Health Center, the Ottumwa Good Samaritan Center and the Hospice House of Davis and Wapello Counties. Hospice employees are ready to move into their new building on Pennsylvania Avenue in Ottumwa. (December 19, Ottumwa Courier)

Kidney donor found on Facebook
Matthew Burge of Cedar Rapids was willing to try anything to help his ailing father. Even Facebook. Burge, 22, put a message on the social networking Web site asking if anyone would be willing to donate a kidney to his dad, John Burge, who suffers from polycystic kidney disease.  (December 19, Mason City Globe-Gazette)

We can’t afford not to change health care
Critics of health care reform argue that changing the system is just too costly, but for largely rural states like Iowa, it’s the status quo we can least afford.  (December 19, Ottumwa Courier)

U.S.  Headlines

Senate health care bill: The hospital view
Rich Umbdenstock, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association, talks to National Public Radio about the Senate health care bill. He says his organization supports many aspects of the bill, but is concerned about its readmissions policy. That would penalize hospitals for readmissions that are unavoidable, rather than focusing on readmissions that are preventable. (December 22, National Public Radio)

Doctors seek out cure for inefficiency
All the consolidation that took place in the healthcare industry in 2009 could have a surprising benefit for patients: greater strides toward efficiencies in customer service. That’s because larger doctor practices that swallowed up smaller ones have deeper pockets to upgrade their information systems and other infrastructures, which the Obama administration is touting as part of health care reform and which studies have shown consumers are demanding.  (December 24, Chicago Tribune)

Weighing the medical costs of end-of-life care
The Ronald Reagan U.C.L.A. Medical Center, one of the nation’s most highly regarded academic hospitals, has earned a reputation as a place where doctors will go to virtually any length and expense to try to save a patient’s life. Yet that ethos has made the medical center a prime target for critics in the Obama administration and elsewhere who talk about how much money the nation wastes on needless tests and futile procedures.  (December 23, New York Times)

Businesses brace for health bill’s cost
Companies are alarmed at potentially costly provisions in the Senate healthcare bill, many of which they hope will be scrapped during a final round of negotiations early next year. A scramble to massage the hefty measure, instead of pushing to kill it, reflects the view of many in the business community that a sweeping remake of the health care system now appears inevitable. (December 23, Wall Street Journal)

Florida shares RAC battle stories
Wondering what it will be like to bear the full force of the Recovery Audit Contractor program? Florida hospital execs can tell you; they’ve already been with the program for three years as part of the RAC demonstration project. (December 21, FierceHealthFinance)

Big hospitals flush with cash despite industry’s dire warnings
Critics say large hospital operators that are amassing cash are doing so at the expense of patients, charging higher prices when that money could be used to lower costs or subsidize hospitals in a hole. The hospitals maintain they need to have ample cash to invest in the latest medical technology, attract top medical care providers and maintain a reserve to cushion themselves from rocky economic conditions. (December 22, Chicago Tribune)

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Senators voted first thing this morning to pass their health care reform bill.  The final vote was originally scheduled for this evening, but Republicans and Democrats struck a deal in which Republicans agreed to end their filibuster to allow the earlier vote.  This morning’s vote was the last in a string of procedural votes that have taken place every day since Monday’s 1 a.m. cloture vote, which ended debate on the bill. 

The Senate reform legislation, estimated to cost $871 billion, would extend coverage to 94 percent of legal residents who are currently uninsured – about 31 million people – by 2019.  The legislation also includes language supported by IHA related to value-based purchasing for hospitals, a low-volume adjustment for rural hospitals and expansion of the 340B program. 

Now that the Senate and House have passed their versions of health care reform legislation (the House bill passed in October), the next step is a conference committee, in which Senate and House leaders will hash out differences between the two bills and eventually merge them into one document that then must pass both chambers.  The conference committee’s timeline remains unclear, as Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) has reportedly stated that preconference negotiations will begin as the Senate passes its bill and will continue over the holidays. 

The goal is to deliver a bill to President Obama before his State of the Union address at the end of January.  But with the House scheduled to be out of session until January 12 and the Senate until January 19, White House officials have reported that they do not expect a conference bill to pass both chambers until after the president’s speech.

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Xmas-Hospital-Symbol2As it is for everyone, Christmas is a special time of year at Iowa’s 118 community hospitals.  But the holiday season also underscores the mission that hospitals uphold every day, all day – a mission that incorporates not only health and healing on a community-wide scale, but providing hope and joy for individuals and families.  Those are traditional Christmas tidings, but they are at the center of the everyday work done by 70,000 Iowa hospital employees. 

Here are some snapshots of Christmas traditions and events at Iowa hospitals: 

A special visitor at Blank Children's Hospital

A special visitor at Blank Children's Hospital

Staff members at Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines make a special effort to make Christmas as special as possible for the children and families who are inpatient this time of year.  Blank Child Life staff take Santa to visit each patient room – including the neonatal intensive care unit – so each patient can have their photo taken and receive a special gift from the jolly old elf (who, it’s rumored, may be one of the hospital’s pediatricians).  More gifts are distributed, again by Santa, on Christmas Eve.  All gifts given to the children are made possible by generous donations from the community.

At Wright Medical Center in Clarion, each department decorates its area with a designated charity for giving and CEO Steve Simonin and his guitar lead a group of employee carolers throughout the hallways, with employees joining in and harmonizing as departments are visited.  A huge success this year has been an employee holiday assistance fund, supported with bake sales, Clarion Chamber gift certificates, “wow” bucks (given to employees who go above and beyond) and cash donations, with the proceeds all going toward those employees requesting some help for the holidays.  To top it all off, one of the hospital’s physicians, his wife and grandchildren volunteered as “the Santa Claus family” and posed for photos with employees and their families.

Ringing in the holidays in Orange City

At 102, Chris Dekker rings in the holidays in Orange City

Nursing home residents at Orange City Area Health System entertained guests and staff with a bell choir concert.  Traditional Christmas songs literally rang through the hospital’s hallways as residents donned their holiday colors and made a joyful noise.

The “Holiday of Lights” at Greene County Medical Center in Jefferson was a huge success.  People from the community joined staff in decorating trees and wreaths that created a festive atmosphere in the hospital lobby and in the long-term care center.  The decorations were auctioned off, raising nearly $3,000.  At the same time, the hospital’s auxiliary’s homemade candy sales raised another $1,600.  All the money raised will be used to purchase much-needed equipment at the hospital. 

CEO Rick Seidler and a room full of Allen Health System generosity

CEO Rick Seidler and a room full of Allen Health System generosity

A food drive by employees at Allen Health System in Waterloo brought in more than 3,000 food items, filling a truck and weighing in at more than 1,000 pounds, for the Cedar Valley Food Bank.

The Broadlawns Medical Center Guild in Des Moines invited all employees to attend the annual Holiday Dinner, which the guild has organized for many years.  This is held in appreciation of the employees’ dedication and service during the past year.  A traditional holiday dinner was served to all three employee shifts by hospital trustees and senior leaders, with CEO Jody Jenner and guild members being the hosts.

In addition to gathering food, clothing and gifts for local families in need and making sure each employee receives a personal gift, staff at Lucas County Health Center in Chariton design, build and drive a float in the town’s annual lighted Christmas parade.  This year’s entry, featuring caroling staff members and their children, won the parade’s People’s Choice Award.  The $50 prize was donated to supplement the hospital’s 2010 First Baby gift basket.

A tree surrounded by giving (and givers) in Osage

A tree surrounded by giving (and givers) in Osage

A new holiday tradition was started by staff at Mitchell County Regional Health Center in Osage.  Recognizing that struggling children and families were being well served by other local organizations, the hospital initiated its first Angel Tree for needy adults.  The hospital contacted nursing homes, care facilities and public health to get descriptions of people who had a need and those were shared as Christmas tree angels in the hospital lobby.  Within 24 hours, all of the angels were gone and two weeks later the gifts were at the hospital, where they were wrapped by department managers and then delivered.

Preparing to feed the masses in Atlantic

Preparing to feed the masses in Atlantic

Individual departments at Cass County Health System (CCHS) in Atlantic organize activities to brighten Christmas throughout the community.  Donations to the local food pantry, adopting families and children, donating items for a “Santa’s Closet” shopping room for staff who may have a hard time purchasing gifts, creating a beautiful hand-made quilt to raffle to adopt a family – there is no shortage of generosity and caring spirit!  After hearing that coats, warm clothing and blankets were in short supply at an Omaha mission, CCHS employees filled a pick-up and car full of donations in just 24 hours.  An annual health system-wide tradition is the Holiday Meal, served to people in the community who are unable to provide their own special dinner.  Staff donate time by serving meals; talent by bringing homemade baked goods for “to-go” packages; and treasures by giving financially to offset the cost of the meal and gifts for each family.  This will be the 12th year for this very special event, which provides a delicious holiday meal for about 130 people every year. 

Employees load gifts for needy families in Primghar

Employees load gifts for needy families in Primghar

Each year, staff at Baum Harmon Mercy Hospital and Clinics in Primghar, Paullina, Sutherland and Hartley participate in the Adopt a Family Program.  The hospital and clinics adopted seven families this year.  Each family receives a grocery gift card paid for by monies donated from staff for “blue jean Fridays.”  The staff bought gifts for the children including a bicycle, games and clothes.  Everyone brings extra groceries to go with the grocery gift cards and some purchased additional gift cards to be given to the families.  In addition to the formal Adopt a Family program, some staff made gift baskets for needy families we serve in our clinics.  This was done in-lieu of staff exchanging gifts amongst themselves.

Algona carolers and songs and smiles

Algona carolers bring songs and smiles

Kossuth Regional Health Center in Algona has a tradition of gathering staff to carol over their lunch hour to patients and other staff members.  Staff usually do this one of the last days of the work week before Christmas and many employees dress the part with Santa hats, reindeer ears and so on.

At Great River Medical Center in West Burlington, chaplains from the Spiritual Care Department deliver poinsettias to all inpatients on Christmas Eve. The plants are purchased by Great River Friends, which is a combination of former auxiliary members and the hospital’s Volunteer Services Department.

After dinner, a special photo in Dubuque

After dinner, a special photo in Dubuque

Partnering with the Visiting Nurses Association, employees at The Finley Hospital in Dubuque provided a full holiday dinner and gifts for 34 local families, including more than 50 children.  The VNA and Finley Hospital employees donated hundreds of hours and collected nearly $5,000 to support a Community Outreach Holiday Meal. This hospital-wide effort at Finley raised funds for gift cards for the families by holding wreath and mini-tree sales, paying to wear jeans on a given Friday, bake sales, pass-the-hat collections and payroll deduction.

Continuing to spread the pride and joy that goes with a new community hospital, Jefferson County Health Center in Fairfield will have an afternoon of music (provided by a local high school musician who has been a member of the All-State Orchestra for two years) and refreshments for all hospital visitors.

Beautiful music on a winter day in Storm Lake

Beautiful music on a winter day in Storm Lake

Music also fills the air at Buena Vista Regional Medical Center in Storm Lake when members of the local symphony (including one of the hospital’s physicians) put on a lunch-time Christmas concert.  This is a hospital tradition that draws a big crowd every year.

Young singers regale staff and visitors at Waverly Health Center.  A choir from nearby Southeast Elementary stops by the hospital each year to share carols and that special Christmas spirit that comes from young voices and hearts.

Here at IHA, staff donated gifts and cash to make Christmas happen for 16 individuals (including 11 children) in three needy families.  The families were identified for IHA by counselors at Des Moines’ George Washington Carver Elementary, a neighborhood school that IHA has supported for several years with the Christmas gift project, school supply drives and during the United Way Day of Caring.

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100_4086Michele Ronfeldt
Respiratory Therapy Technician
Buena Vista Regional Medical Center, Storm Lake

Michele Ronfeldt is the definition of a Hospital Hero. She is someone who reached out to another in time of need and did so with no expectation of reward or recognition.  It is a part of who she is and the character of her soul.  Michele made an unselfish decision to give the gift of life to another person.  And in the amazing way that miracles often happen, she was given a gift of life in return.

Michele, a wife and mother of three, had been a Respiratory Therapy Technician at Buena Vista Regional Medical Center since 2002.  Her supervisor, Larry Schubert, states, “When Michele was hired, the entire department quickly realized she had one of those personalities that you admire. Her positive attitude, professional skills and eagerness to pitch in earned the respect of the staff and they began asking to be scheduled to work with her because she made the shift so enjoyable.” 

When Gary Hoffman, a Schaller firefighter, announced his kidney disease required him to quit and begin dialysis. Michele’s husband Jason, a fellow firefighter, knew Gary’s only hope was a donor kidney. Jason asked to be tested and was an acceptable match until a medical complication disqualified him. Michele immediately stepped forward and asked to be considered. 

Amazingly, Michele was a match but doctors warned her that her hope of another baby would be delayed as it would be virtually impossible to conceive for almost a year following the surgery. Fertility had been a complicating issue but the importance of this decision called Michele to action.

The surgery went well and Gary gratefully returned to a state of well being without complications.

Never looking for any recognition, Michele returned to work but soon received an unbelievable reward.  The experts said it was “impossible” and a “miracle,” but little Cole Ronfeldt was born 11 months later.

Michele is an everyday hero and a role model for other hospital employees and everyone who knows her.

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Taking a moment to reflect back on 2009, the Iowa Hospital Association staff would like to express their gratitude to all of the Iowans helping the sick and injured every day.  IHA has sent out this holiday greeting card to all of its members as a way of wishing everyone a safe and happy holiday season.

You can check out all of the IHA videos on by visiting our YouTube profile.

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