By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
Catholic-affiliated Mercy Health Network acquired Newton’s Skiff Medical Center earlier this month. It is a change that brings the staff and community an immense amount of hope for the future.
A number of Newton businesses have dissolved since the departure of a Fortune 500 company in the community in 2007 while changes in healthcare and reimbursements are causing financial strain for rural hospitals nationwide. Skiff administrators wanted to ensure that the Newton hospital continued to provide a high level of care.
Skiff Medical Center is the only hospital in Jasper County, population 37,000. “The integration of Skiff with Mercy ensures residents of Newton and Jasper County will continue to have access to the local hospital which has served their community for more than 90 years,” said Brett Altman, Skiff Medical Center CEO, in a press release.
Mercy Health Network was founded in 1998 under a joint operating agreement between two of the largest Catholic, not-for-profit health organizations in the United States: Catholic Health Initiatives, based in Denver, Colorado, and Trinity Health, based in Novi, Michigan. Owned or affiliated Mercy medical centers, hospitals and clinics within the Davenport Diocese include Clinton and Centerville.
Bob Ritz, Mercy’s president, said in a press release: “Through our working together, Skiff Medical Center will continue to provide quality care in the safest environment possible. As a vital part of the Newton community, we look forward to helping improve access to specialty services and providing a remarkable patient experience for everyone we have the privilege to serve.”
The Newton City Council approved an agreement for city-owned Skiff to sell all of its land, buildings and assets to Mercy, effective July 1. That final decision followed several required levels of approval from the mayor and the board of directors of both Mercy and Skiff, according to a press release. Skiff Medical Center will retain its name.
Stephanie Alexander, Skiff’s director of public relations and marketing, said community and hospital officials were proactive in pursuing the partnership and believe that Mercy sees Skiff as an essential community resource worth investing in.
The ethical standards of Skiff and Mercy were similar, making it a good fit. The hospital is now required to follow Mercy’s Ethical and Religious Directives, which fit with “98 to 99” of Skiff’s previous ethical guidelines, Alexander said. Skiff did not offer abortion procedures or euthanasia prior to Mercy’s acquisition. Skiff will no longer be able to offer vasectomies or tubal ligations, but those procedures were not in high demand, since most people opt to have them done at physician-owned outpatient clinics in the community, she added.
In a letter to the editor in the Newton Daily News July 1, Altman, the Skiff CEO, said Catholic principles of health care — such as promoting and defending human dignity, caring for those who are less advantaged, contributing to the common good and exercising responsible stewardship — fit well with Skiff’s mission. “(These values) have been woven into our identity for almost a century,” he wrote.
Bishop Martin Amos gave his blessing during a Missioning Ceremony July 14 at Skiff. In the presence of staff, Mercy representatives and community members he prayed, “God, the comforter of the afflicted and the strength of the weak, has brought us together to re-dedicate and bless this building, which has long served the needs of the sick. May he bless and strengthen you by his grace, so that, in serving the sick with tender charity, you may serve Christ himself.” Afterward, he blessed the hands of staff members.
Jan Crall, a member of St. Mary Parish in Albia, has worked as a medical transcriptionist at Skiff for 10 years. Although the Missioning Ceremony occurred on her day off, it was an occasion she didn’t want to miss. “I thought it was important to be a part of our new adventure, and I wanted to show my support of them and of our partnership with Mercy. Many people worked very hard and very long to ensure the continuation of the hospital in Newton.