A handful of small Iowa towns with populations of less than 5,000 and not part of a larger metro area, bucked the trend and grew their populations in the 2020 census data just released. Growing small towns have one or more factors working in their favor, a summer-long IowaWatch investigation revealed for this special report.
We asked leaders in several rural Iowa towns for ways small Iowa towns could be vital. Jobs are a given, although those interviewed said having jobs, alone, does not guarantee vitality if other dynamics are not present in town.
Seventy-six of Iowa’s 82 critical access hospitals ended the last fiscal year with negative operating margins, an IowaWatch analysis of their most recently reported financial data shows. Iowa’s situation falls in line with a national report that shows 46% of the nation’s rural hospitals are working with a negative operating margin.
In March, Kelli Greenland faced a devil of a choice – should she accept a retail job as an essential worker, or should she remain home to keep her medically fragile son safe from exposure to the novel coronavirus? The West Des Moines mother of two decided to stay home initially. Greenland relied heavily on food pantries to feed her family, which includes son Ethan, 7, who has asthma, and daughter Skylynn, 4, who is lactose intolerant. The family had used food pantries previously, but “not like we’ve had to this year,” Greenland, 30, said. “Definitely, 2020 has been a ride, from not being able to get food in-stock in the beginning in the grocery stores to not being able to go to the stores because my son has severe asthma, and the possibility of exposing him,” Greenland said.
Iowa hospitals lost an estimated $433 million in March through October because of COVID-19, the Iowa Hospital Association said in a report released Wednesday, Dec. 16. The association reported that the state’s hospitals have spent $1.25 billion to equip hospitals for and to care for people with the highly contagious coronavirus that has killed 3,354 Iowans and 307,076 Americans. Provider relief funds from federal government stimulus programs offset much of those costs and were included in the calculations that resulted in the loss estimate, the association reported. The projection did not include money from some federal programs, like the Paycheck Protection Program and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or state funding, the association reported.
One by one, COVID-19 outbreaks popped up in April and May at meatpacking plants across the country, fanning fears that the infectious coronavirus could spread rapidly into rural states. Plants closed temporarily in small metro areas like Waterloo, and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, but also smaller Iowa towns like Tama, Columbus Junction and Perry.
Leaders at Buena Vista Regional Medical Center in Storm Lake, a northwest Iowa town of 10,500 with a Tyson Foods packing plant, knew their time would come. “We just didn’t know to what degree,” Rob Colerick, the hospital CEO and administrator, said. “I mean, you saw it in Columbus Junction. You saw it in Waterloo.
Business and community leaders in Albert Lea, Minnesota, were set to build out some abandoned mall space this year for a new local healthcare center after Mayo Clinic Health System closed a large share of the town’s hospital in 2019. COVID-19 altered the plans but not the goal.
UPDATED: The appropriations bill Congress sent to President Donald Trump Sept. 30 to keep the federal government open through Dec. 11 includes a section giving hospitals one year, instead of the current three months, to start paying back all of the accelerated Medicare payments they received in the spring.
Iowa hospitals received $190.3 million in CARES Act relief fund payments in April and were expecting as much as $360 million more in a second round of federal relief aid, interviews and documents shared with IowaWatch show. Part of a special national collaboration, “Slammed: Rural Health Care and COVID-19”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration cleared an Iowa hand sanitizer company of making misleading claims about its product’s ability to “mitigate, prevent, treat, diagnose, or cure COVID-19.” Prefense LLC, of Muscatine, faced an April 23 FDA complaint that made the company the nation’s first manufacturer to get an FDA warning letter claiming the firm marketed a hand sanitizer with unproven COVID-19-related claims.