A- A+

Health Care Forum Explores Programs, Policy + Workforce Initiatives in DSM

Health Care Forum

December 1, 2023

The Public Policy Issue Form on Health Care, held Oct. 19, featured discussions on the Iowa health care system and programs, policies and initiatives to address the health care industry’s workforce shortage in the state. David Stark, President and CEO of UnityPoint Health, expertly moderated the event, and I served as a panelist alongside Dr. Anthony (Tony) Coleman, Broadlawns Medical Center, and Mike Wegner, MercyOne.

How Health Care Centers Benefit Communities Beyond Just Health Care Services

Hospitals, often working with patients during the most difficult times in their lives, are essential to communities and economic growth. In fact, health systems spent more than $110 billion in community benefits in 2019. Our health care providers are crucial to keeping the wheels of our educational, economic and public systems moving. For Des Moines University, community health care partners play an integral role in creating the next generation of providers by delivering clinical education rotations for students and residencies for graduates.

Des Moines University Clinic, in addition to being a not-for-profit multi-specialty health care provider, has had an important impact on the refugee population, delivering more refugee intake physicals than any other provider in the state of Iowa.

Beyond acute care, hospitals help maintain health through partnerships and are the hub of the health and wellness ecosystems. To help maintain the systems, hospitals partner with other businesses, cities and organizations in the community. For example, Broadlawns partnered with the City of Des Moines to finish a walking trail because walkability in the city benefits the community and enhances wellbeing. As Dr. Coleman put it, it's about health care, not sick care. Our health care providers also play an integral role in educating the community on topics such as maintaining health, improving wellbeing and managing factors that influence their outcomes including social determinants of health.

As stated above, health care systems are drivers of economic growth. They are often one of the largest employers in their communities and can help attract other businesses to the communities they serve. Strong health systems create growth and help retain residents of their communities. Often not recognized due to their not-for-profit status, but hospitals also contribute tax revenue; Mercy, for instance, is one of the largest payers of property tax in Greater Des Moines (DSM).

The Iowa Hospital Association indicates that hospitals have a multiplier effect on jobs and economic impact. In addition to the 145,000 Iowa hospital jobs, there are an additional 149,000 jobs tied to Iowa hospitals worth about $21.5 billion in economic impact in Iowa.

Rural Health Care Policy

There are many things that are politicized but health care should not be one of them. You cannot put a value on a human life. When health care is politicized it creates environments that negatively affect patient outcomes. Policy in health care is something that must always be outside the boundaries of the two-party system. Regardless of what you believe, everyone must have access to quality health care. Ultimately, policy efforts need to foster opportunities for providers to establish and maintain practices in rural communities. Having Iowa ties is one of the best indicators of health professional remaining in Iowa after graduation. Prioritizing graduates of programs within the state of Iowa for local jobs and residency programs increases the likelihood those individuals will remain in Iowa.

Rural Challenges

Education has become cost-prohibitive for those wanting to pursue a health profession. The pressures to make a good salary right away to pay down loans many times results in providers flocking to metropolitan areas and away from rural communities. Policy initiatives need to be evaluated, creating incentivizes for health care providers to set up practices in rural areas. This starts with improving provider reimbursement in Iowa for all specialties and establishing payment parity for behavioral health.

Once in those rural communities, providers are frequently on an island without many other providers or specialists nearby. They need to be equipped with the tools to provide more wholistic care, particularly the ability to identify and take steps to address mental health issues. Mental health care is health care and patients with undiagnosed and untreated mental health conditions have far worse outcomes for their physical health conditions. DMU has taken a multi-phase approach in addressing mental health needs, not just in DSM with our behavioral health clinic, but across the state and beyond by educating each one of our clinical degree students in the NAMI provider program. The program helps reduce stigma and increase competencies in identifying and working with mental illness, which in a rural setting can be invaluable in the approach to care for patients in rural communities.

Partnering with High Schools to Expand Health Care Talent Pipeline

A robust pipeline of students is key to expanding the talent pipeline for future health care workers in DSM and Iowa. Mercy travels throughout the state to engage with thousands of high school students through interactive presentations and other opportunities. This has led to the hiring of high school students across the region, many of whom Mercy retains as they attend college.

Additionally, Broadlawns successfully operates the Tech and Teach program, bringing young individuals into the organization by hiring them as students to learn a skill and demonstrate proficiency before gaining employment. Training people from a job into a career allows them to increase their knowledge and education, buy a home and make a life here. Slowly, the community thrives as these students make progress.

The next Public Policy Issue Forum will be held on Thursday, Dec. 14 at Noon. The event will focus on the upcoming Iowa Caucuses.

The Partnership's Public Policy team engages with local, state and federal officials to create public policy that generates economic growth, business prosperity and talent development in Greater Des Moines (DSM). The Partnership is a nonpartisan organization.

Philip Blumberg, M.H.A

Philip Blumberg, M.H.A, is Executive Director — Clinic, Clinic Administration of Des Moines University.