U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) toured Manning Regional Healthcare Center and met with hospital administration and board leadership on Monday, August 28, as part of his annual 99 county tour. Also present on behalf of MercyOne were Bob Ritz, CEO; Mary Cownie, Chief of Staff; and Mike Trachta, Vice President of Network Affiliates.
As the Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Grassley has worked closely with critical Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and retirement policies and has potential to influence significant funding reimbursements for rural hospitals and was very familiar with the challenges faced by rural hospitals.
“Representative government is a two-way street, and it requires continued dialogue between elected officials and the people we represent,” Grassley said. “I appreciate the opportunity to hold town meetings, answer questions and take comments from Iowans. My annual 99 county meetings help me regularly keep in touch with Iowans to better represent them in Washington.”
MRHC CEO, Linn Block, MHA, BSN, RN, expressed that, “Funding continues to be a challenge for rural hospitals every year, especially as we see costs skyrocket and reimbursement rates remain the same. However, MRHC did end up breaking even this year, which is great, but it leaves us little room to invest in future priorities that will take our facility to the next level.”
Additional questions to the Senator addressed the workforce shortage and challenges with filling critical patient-care roles. Shelli Lorenzen, Chief Human Resources Officer, shared, “MRHC has had a few positions open since before the pandemic that we are still struggling to get filled.”
She shared that MRHC is being innovative to fill some nursing positions and is working with four Indonesian students to secure nursing degrees through the hospital’s reimbursement program. She requested to the Senator that more be done to improve immigration processes and workforce preparedness to help address the workforce shortage.
Due to rural residents’ high dependency on Medicare, rural hospitals are typically more financially vulnerable since Medicare only pays a fraction of hospital’s actual costs. “MRHC receives a much lower reimbursement than the national average making the financial viability of our small, rural hospital difficult to ensure that we can continue providing quality patient access to care,” shared Block.
Participants encouraged the Senator to look at additional ways to improve Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements to rural hospitals. Recovery Center Director, Taya Vonnahme, MSN, RN, ARNP, CADC, was on hand to share how MRHC is uniquely positioned to provide support for patients facing substance abuse and addiction as well as other ailments thanks to the relationship with MRHC and a variety of services being provided under one roof. However, Medicare and Medicaid funding continues to be a challenge to compensate at a rate that covers the cost of services.
All were grateful to the Senator for visiting and board member Larry Hagedorn expressed his appreciation for the USDA loans that were pivotal in building the new hospital ten years ago.
“We are grateful for Senator Grassley’s visit and his ongoing support of rural healthcare. We also appreciate the support and relationship with the MercyOne administration, as it takes the whole system working together effectively to address the current and long-term challenges in healthcare,” shared Block.
This is Grassley’s 43rd straight year holding meetings in every one of Iowa’s 99 counties. Grassley has held at least one meeting in every county, every year since he was first elected to serve in the U.S. Senate. He answers questions on any subject. Iowans set the agenda.