Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
MT. PLEASANT — Henry County Health Center entered into an operational leasing agreement after passing a unanimous motion to approve the agreement in its June 16 Board of Trustee’s meeting.
The operational agreement took effect on July 1. The agreement comes after years of searching for a solution to the major shortcomings of the Emergency Medical Services department at HCHC.
This 11½-year lease comes after nearly two years of accumulated effort by the board to ensure the preservation of health care access in Henry County despite losses in the hospital’s budget and especially the emergency medical services department.
The hospital knew that something had to change in early 2020 when the HCHC Board of Trustees proposed a EMS tax levy in April to fund shortcomings in the EMS department.
In November, the Henry County Health Center Board of Trustees proposed and passed a memorandum of understanding to enter a leasing agreement with the Great River Health Systems.
In a unanimous vote at its June meeting, the Henry County Health Center trustees leased all of its assets and employees, excluding the ambulance services, to Great River Health Systems in Burlington.
As part of the leasing agreement, Great River will retain the assets of the board of trustees and the Henry County Health Center while extending funding to cover the losses in the Emergency Medical Services Department or ambulance services that this next fiscal year are expected to be over $300,000.
Great River has agreed to help maintain and stabilize the hospital's emergency medical services department, which the hospital had previously attempted to move to a county-run service. Under the agreement, Great River will subsidize shortfalls of the program, up to $1.68 million over five years.
However, this leasing agreement comes structured as a lease, not a sale of the hospital, meaning that Henry County still retains ownership of those assets.
Another caveat to the plan introduces a board of directors that includes at least five Henry County residents.
The elected HCHC board will stay in place and will collect rent from Great River as well as continue to levy taxes.
The board will be expected to use those tax funds to maintain, repair and replace hospital assets when needed. Should the rent and tax revenue not be enough to cover the costs, Great River has committed to taking on the shortfall and additional expenses.
The plan includes provisions that keep Henry County Health Center workers in the Iowa Public Employee Retirement system and keeps their benefits the same.
Great River has agreed to continue to maintain the health center's classification as a critical access hospital for a period of time and to continue clinical services for the next four years.
With the leasing agreement signed and the transition taking place at HCHC, the trustees are happy that the critical access to health care that HCHC provides still is possible and that it will keep the community alive.
“We are thrilled residents have voted to secure the future of local health care. With the voters’ support, we look forward to taking the next steps in continuing HCHC’s rich history,” said HCHC Board of Trustees Chairman Kent Severson. “This year, HCHC is celebrating its 100th year serving the county, and we will be able to welcome that milestone with confidence and stability to ensure quality health care stays close to home for years to come.”
This ensures a hopefully long-lasting relationship between the two entities.
“Great River Health is happy with the election results, and we look forward to expanding and enhancing our trusted partnership with HCHC,” said Great River Health President and CEO Matt Wenzel. “We are very pleased to have the continued support of Henry County residents. We are committed to providing local, quality health care options for residents in our region now and ensuring the long-term stability of these services in the future.”
“On behalf of the trustees, I would like to thank the Vote Yes committee for its support, volunteer efforts and spreading the word about the benefits of this next step in the future of a great partnership,” Severson added. “We also thank all of the Henry County residents who supported us with their vote to keep health care local.”