KEOKUK — It was quiet outside Blessing Health Keokuk Friday in the hours leading up to its final closing at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.
The 151 employees of the 49-bed nonprofit hospital had spent the previous days clearing out personal belongings. Patients had stopped seeing each other there at 7am. Traffic in and out of the doors had slowed to a slow crawl.
“It’s sad,” said Dennis Stutes of Keokuk. “It didn’t register very well. … We just said goodbye.”
Stutes had been working there since 2006, she explained, when she left the hospital for the last time. But, like many Keokuk residents, her history with the building goes way back.
“A lot of people were born here,” she said. “I was born here.”
Stutes remembers her mother telling her about a nurse, Linda Dutchers, who helped her and was good to her before she had to be sent to Iowa City for a month in the neonatal intensive care unit. She understands how important it is for the hospital to help in those first emergency moments.
One example of what Keokuk residents will miss came Friday when Missy Guymon stopped outside the emergency room with her son, Dylan, 12, who was suffering from an injury on the football field.
They were rejected.
“Looks like we’re going to drive to Fort Madison,” Gaiman said.
“That’s the end of it,” Dylan said before perking up at the idea of getting ice cream on the way home.
Keokuk residents needing emergency care now have to travel: ‘It’s a little upsetting’
While urgent care and family practice options remain in Keokuk, the hospital’s closing leaves the town of 9,900 without an emergency room, forcing those in need to travel either 17 miles to Memorial Hospital in Carthage, Illinois, or 18 miles to Southeast Iowa Regional Medical Services Center Fort Madison Campus.
“These are friendships,” Stutes said. “It’s a community that I feel is suffering.”
Kelsey Hardy, an emergency room worker, went outside on her break to see the emergency room signs being removed. She described the atmosphere in the hospital as “quite gloomy”.
“It’s the last day and we talked about the memories,” Hardy said. “It’s a bit upsetting. It’s just sad.”
Blessing Health announced on Sept. 1 that it would close the hospital, which, according to Blessing CEO Maureen Kahn, was seeing an average of only one and a half patients and 22-24 emergency patients per day.
More ▼:‘Keokuk’s biggest challenge’: Hospital closing prompts city to seek emergency solutions
Cathy Hull, head of rural hospitals for Blessing Health, noted that rural hospitals operate on thin margins, whose scales can tip quickly and are heavily influenced by the payer mix.
“When you get a swing from a patient or two, I know it doesn’t seem like much, but it really makes a difference,” Hull told The Hawk Eye during a previous interview. “It could mean the difference between a successful month and a failed one.”
Further aggravating the financial condition of the hospital, which had been in crisis for more than a decade, was the condition of the building itself. A third-party review found it needed up to $20 million worth of work.
The history of the hospital dates back to 1886
Blessing purchased Keokuk Hospital in 2021 from UnityPoint Health, which purchased Keokuk Area Hospital in 2016.
The hospital building was built in 1981, but its history is rooted in two hospitals, the oldest of which dates back to April 28, 1886, when St. Joseph’s Hospital began operations as a 15-bed facility outside the city limits at the invitation of Keokuk College of Medicine. It moved to 14th and Exchange the following year, welcoming additions in 1865, 1904, 1918 and 1929, with the original building replaced in 1960.
More ▼:Blessing Health to close Keokuk Hospital, clinic-based services to remain
Meanwhile, Mercy Hospital began in 1892 as a partnership with Keokuk College of Physicians and Surgeons before becoming WC Graham Protestant Hospital in 1901 when it moved to 15th and Fulton streets, about seven blocks from the campus of St. . Joseph.
In 1914 the Woman’s Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church took over WC Graham and changed its name to Graham Protestant Hospital in 1929. In 1941 it was incorporated as the Graham Hospital Association and operated as a non-profit organization until September 30, 1975 Mr.
Graham Hospital and St. Joseph consolidated on October 1, 1975, beginning Keokuk Area Hospital.
Hawk Eye reporter Michaele Niehaus contributed to this report.