Public Health begins to hash out details of separation from HCHC

The Henry County Health Center and Board of Public Health are getting their fingers dirty as they begin negotiations to separate the two health centers.

Last week, the board of trustees authorized Henry County Health Center (HCHC) Chief Executive Officer Robb Gardner to begin discussion with the Board of Public Health about how they will continue their services under county jurisdiction rather than in contractual obligation to the hospital. HCHC and the Board of Public Health have enjoyed a mutually-beneficial 30-year relationship, only splitting now as the hospital continues to struggle financially.

?The entire staff of Public Health, they?ve done a great job,? Gardner said during the Board of Public Health meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 24. ?This is not a reflection on any of the services you?ve done. Great leadership, great programming, this is more of a financial decision.?

Gardner said that as a non-allowable, Public Health is not a hospital service paid for by Medicare. Furthermore, Public Health has its own payment system and is not a hospital-based system. He hopes that as Public Health transitions away from HCHC, no one in the community will see a change in the health care service provided.

Board members proposed a lot of questions to Gardner, such as how they and HCHC would work collaboratively on patient care, how much leasing the current building they are in would cost, and if they would continue to have shared staff members.

These topics, as well as insurance coverage for Public Health and paid time off, will be continued conversations held by the Board of Public Health. The board hopes to have financial decisions hashed out in the next one to two months.

Dr. Bob Welander, vice-chair on the Board of Public Health, asked that the HCHC present a proposal to the Board of Health of the cost of renting the current space Public Health resides in on the hospital?s campus and what rental insurance policies they would need.

?At this point, we don?t know what we can or cannot afford,? Welander said.

Berdette Ogden with the Iowa Department of Public Health said that as for sharing employees, if done, should be done in a contractual arrangement. Without that, it is difficult for employees to split their time evenly between two departments.

?I think that would be very confusing (to have employees employed with both HCHC and Public Health), especially during this transition,? Board of Public Health chair Rose Lauer said. ?That will be part of the personnel discussion.?

Currently, there are only two resident nurses working for both HCHC and Public Health.

?(HCHC and Public Health) need to continue to be connected working together, but it would be a transition where (Public Health staff is) housed in terms of employment,? Gardner said.

?There has to be a lot of trepidation for staff, making this transition and everything,? Lauer said.

As Public Health continues to work out the details of this transition, they will schedule more than one Board of Health meeting a month, which will be published as public work sessions. The first work session will be Thursday, Nov. 2, at 12:30 p.m. in the Public Health Department.

?Our priority will be promotion and expansion of public health,? Lauer said. ?And working with the hospital,? she added.

Public Health is so integral to how Henry County provides health care, Gardner said.

?Public Health has to continue be a part of the discussion, has to be part of that value-based health care,? he said.

The next regularly scheduled Board of Health meeting is Tuesday, Nov. 28.