Iowa City Veterans Affairs will add mental health services and long-term care facilities


The Iowa City Veterans Medical Center is developing a medical-psychological unit and plans to develop a community living center in addition to a residential rehabilitation treatment program. Living and residential centers would eliminate the need for veterans to travel to Des Moines.

The Iowa City Veterans Health System has future plans for a community living center and residential rehabilitation treatment program, which, if approved, would begin in 2026.

The plans follow the recommendations of an asset and infrastructure review report released March 14 by the US Department of Veterans Affairs.

Jamie Johnson, Public Affairs Manager for Iowa City VAsaid both projects were conceived before the report was published.

Johnson said approval for both developments would come next spring and would be either new construction outside of the landlocked Iowa City VA medical campus or collaborations with a partner.

“Maybe it’s the University of Iowa, maybe it’s Mercy, [or] St. Luke’s,” he said. “We don’t know what it’s going to look like.”

Congress passed the MISSION Act in 2018 under the Trump administration, requiring VA to write asset and infrastructure review reports to assess the health care needs of veterans as well as to assess health care infrastructure. VA health, according to the US Department of Veterans Affairs website.

Johnson said the Iowa City VA medical center is fortunate not to be recommended to close like some other medical centers across the country, but instead has been recommended to have 22 beds over the next ten years in addition to two new installations.

Community life center

The first recommendation was to create a community living center, since Iowa City veterans typically drive more than an hour to downtown Des Moines, Johnson said.

“The CLC (Community Living Center) would help us meet the short-term and long-term care needs of our population,” he said.

Irene San Romandoctor at Iowa City VA Medical Center, said the center currently sends veterans who need a short- or long-term retirement home to one of nineteen contracted retirement homes.

“But our goal in the near future is to have our own community living center or our own retirement home,” she said.

The number of beds such a facility would contain is still unknown, she added.

30-bed residential rehabilitation treatment program

The second recommendation, Johnson said, is for a residential rehabilitation treatment program, which Iowa City currently lacks.

St. Romain said Iowa City VA currently sends necessary veterans to travel over an hour to Des Moines to receive their services, as does the Community Living Center.

Johnson said traveling to Des Moines sometimes prevents family members of veterans from participating in their treatment.

10 Bed Inpatient Medical Psychiatry Unit

While the Iowa City VA Medical Center already has an inpatient mental health unit, its new psychiatric medical unit will add ten beds for veterans who not only have underlying mental health issues, but also an acute medical condition, San Roman said.

“The Med Psych is already in the design,” Johnson said. “I think it’s in the 35th or 40th percentile, so it should be operational well before 2026.”

The medical-psychological unit is not designated for long-term stays, he added.

“There is a current lack of medical-psychological beds not only here, but in the community as a whole,” he said. “Thus, this specialized unit will provide care to our veterans who have concurrent acute medical and mental health needs.”

Home health program

In addition to the other three projects, the Assets and Infrastructure Review Board outlined other complementary strategies, most of which include telehealth site expansions, which Johnson said the Iowa City VA is working on.

“We have clinics scattered throughout eastern Iowa and western Illinois, so patients in those communities may be closer to a center of care, but we also do telehealth,” he said.

The VA’s reach in areas outside of Iowa City will expand further with the Home Health Program, for which San Roman said the Iowa City VA already has a strategic initiative.

“I believe we’re a pilot program for that,” Johnson said. “I don’t know if anyone else does.”

San Roman said the program will allow them to serve their home primary care veterans in their homes. The program includes certified nursing assistants, light housekeeping, meals, daily activities and laundry, she said.

“We will also be offering in-home PT (physical therapy) as well as OT (occupational therapy) within a fifty-mile radius of Iowa City,” she said.

Johnson said the center plans to add the service before the end of the year.

“We go through the process of expansion versus contraction,” he said. “So we are fortunate to be in a good position here to be able to provide care for our veterans.”


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