February 04, 2023

County’s unused ARPA funding will go towards Newton hospital

Supervisors agree emergency room enhancement project provides great need to community

Chad Kelley, director of operations for MercyOne Newton Medical Center, speaks to the Jasper County Board of Supervisors on Sept. 27 in the courthouse. MercyOne Newton asked supervisors to consider providing $2 million in ARPA funds for its $6 million project to enhance the emergency room.

Supervisors do not know how much of their American Rescue Plan Act funds will be left over after the implementation of the EMS enhancement program and the Phase 1 construction of the new secondary roads shed, but they decided on Jan. 17 that whatever is left will be given to MercyOne Newton Medical Center.

Most of the county’s $7.22 million in ARPA funding has been allocated to organizations and projects, including $1.25 million to county conservation. Jasper County Supervisor Brandon Talsma said there could be between $100,000 to $1 million left over, but getting a firm estimate is not yet possible.

Talsma said all of the ARPA money needs to be earmarked or allocated this year.

“With that being said we do know we have a couple large projects that are in the works,” he said. “…Essentially all the money has been earmarked already. However there are several projects out there that, I guess a good way to put it is the total dollar amount is fluctuating, so it may end up coming in less.”

Caps have been placed on these two major projects: about $2 million for the EMS enhancement and about $3 million for the secondary roads shed.

Entities outside Jasper County are also requesting unused ARPA funds, Talsma said, including an artist. The chairperson of the board of supervisors is “tired of dealing with them” and decided it would be best if officials decided what they wanted the remainder of the funds spent on.

Jasper County Supervisor Denny Stevenson recalled a past meeting where a representative from the Newton hospital requested $2 million in ARPA funds to go towards facility improvements. Specifically, the donation would be used for a $6 million emergency room enhancement project.

“I think the hospital in this county is hugely important,” Stevenson said. “I, personally, would love to see the remainder go to that project.”

Fellow county supervisors Doug Cupples and Talsma agreed. The board voted 3-0 to allocate the remaining ARPA funds to MercyOne Newton.

Chad Kelley, director of operations at MercyOne Newton Medical Center, requested the ARPA funding from the board of supervisors in September 2022. Kelley said MercyOne Newton serves about 10,000 visits per year in the emergency department, and the number only continues to grow.

Jasper County is projected to be one of the only rural counties in Iowa to grow. Others continue to shrink. Kelley said market share data continues to show a 1 percent increase each year. The 65-and-older crowd is growing at 10 percent, emphasizing the need for a better emergency room.

“Many of them, whether they’re in assisted living or a nursing home, find their way, at some point, to our emergency room and to our hospital.”

The new emergency room would have two different trauma bays. MercyOne Newton learned during the pandemic it was not well equipped for certain things with the infrastructure currently in place. There were negative pressure rooms and the hospital still has half its ambulance bay shut down for intubations.

“We can’t fit intubation equipment in the rooms for as many people as we were seeing,” Kelley said. “We can’t even fit stretchers in many of the rooms. So I think a local EMS emergency room would also support that. It just isn’t a great situation but we know communities, economically, need a hospital.”

In addition to the bigger rooms, the designs of new emergency room positions the behavioral health suite towards the end to allow staff adequate time to intervene in case patients elope. Right now it’s physically impossible to keep eyes on every patient. The new designs have a centralized nurse station.

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig has a strong passion for community journalism and covers city council, school board, politics and general news in Newton, Iowa and Jasper County.