To the Editor:

Virginia Gay Hospital and Clinics employs nearly 300 people and has an annual payroll of more than $13 million. Virginia Gay serves every patient with the same commitment to quality and compassion, whether it is charity care or services provided to those with the very best private insurance. The hospital provides emergency medical services 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.

Now a bill in the Iowa House or Representatives (HSB 138) could easily cripple Virginia Gay and dozens of other Critical Access Hospitals throughout Iowa, ending our ability of rural Iowans to receive health care in our home communities, or nearby in another small town.

HR 138 would eliminate oversight for construction of new health care facilities. A new facility with a cost of $1.5 million currently needs a “Certificate of Need” from the state before construction. HSB 138 would eliminate the Certificate of Need requirement.

Why is this important for rural Iowans and the people of Vinton in particular?

When a private company opens a specialty surgical center they can, unlike Virginia Gay, be quite picky about the patients they receive. For example, they can choose not to treat patients who are overweight or patients who have other complicating factors like diabetes. Most importantly, they will only be there for patients with private insurance.

The for-profit specialty centers will cherry-pick the healthiest patients with the greatest ability to pay, leaving to local hospitals only the sicker patients with a lower ability to pay. The result will be a rapid downward spiral for small rural hospitals.

For local nonprofit hospitals like Virginia Gay, this isn’t about money. It is about the ability to be here for loved ones and neighbors when they are most in need. It’s about patients receiving services close to home. It’s about having an emergency department always staffed and ready to respond when it matters the most.

Please contact your representatives to let them know how you feel about Iowa’s rural hospitals and Virginia Gay in particular. Health care close to home may become a thing of the past if our legislature passes HR 138. Representative Dawn Pettingill can be contacted at dawn.pettengill@legis.iowa.gov or by phone at 515-281-7622. To learn more about HSB 138 click here.

This letter to the editor is not part of my work on behalf of Virginia Gay Hospital and Clinics but only a statement of my personal concerns.

Kurt Karr