Ted Townsend, president & CEO - UnityPoint Health - Cedar Rapids

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President's Perspective: Hidden in Plain Sight: An Economic Development Success Story

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Ted Townsend image

There’s nothing like taking a thousand people to lunch to clear your thinking.  Partly it serves as a reminder, and partly it serves as a motivational boost.  Everybody’s looking, and everybody in the room is invested in both the problems and the solutions we’re facing.  What’s different is to find that rare moment when we all realize we’re not alone, we’re all in this together, and in large part our success is driven by the success of the group, the community, not just ourselves.

February 7 was that kind of moment for me.  Over the past year it’s been my honor to serve as chair of the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance and that was the day of our annual meeting.  As outgoing chair it was my privilege to tell part of the story of our past year and in this case a big part of that story was the creation of the long sought joint venture between Cedar Rapids and Iowa City for regional economic development.  

This is a success story just beginning to be written but the moment of clarity was the opportunity to see “the region” all in one room, hearing about what we’ve done, what we’re doing, and how much more we’re going to be able to accomplish together than we could do separately.

Then came the flash.  While I always thought my involvement in Economic Development was odd for the CEO of a non-profit healthcare organization, what came to me more clearly that day was that healthcare is not a bystander to this regional economic development.  Not only is our own success and growth governed by the success of the region, but the success of the region in at least one large part is enhanced by our combined regional strengths in healthcare.  So while as a competitor I want to focus on touting the strengths of UnityPoint Health, or St. Luke’s Hospital, or our physicians and staff, as an economic development stakeholder it would be far smarter of me to refocus on our combined assets.  Together the healthcare providers of our region quite remarkably provide perhaps the best healthcare value in the country.  You can locate your business here because of our high caliber work ethic, our Iowa Nice, or our ability to help your business get the best quality healthcare at the lowest cost in America.

You don’t have to go far to hear that from somebody other than me.  Ask any of our large companies with business sites in other parts of the country.  They will tell you, hands down, that Cedar Rapids is their best deal.  Don’t get me wrong, healthcare in this country and here in Iowa still costs too much, and we as providers are part of the problem (though there’s plenty of blame to go around from bad lifestyle choices to incoherent health insurance plans and too many middlemen), but when it comes to economic development we’re a big plus and we should be telling other folks who are looking around for where to locate their business more about it.

Start with the mix of services.  We have excellent community hospitals who have come together with primary care physicians in particular to offer high quality, integrated healthcare options in both Iowa City and Cedar Rapids.  St. Luke’s, Mercy Medical Center and Mercy Iowa City all have high quality and patient satisfaction scores.  We have excellent specialty physicians, well trained and with the data to prove that they are plenty busy enough doing needed care to not bother with churning business of little value to the patient or the employer who’s often paying for it.  That’s why a few years back we were nationally recognized as one of the ten best value healthcare communities in the country by no less an organization than the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and why just this week Iowa was recognized as the BEST state in the nation by U.S. News and World Report, pushed to the top by our economic opportunity and “access to high quality health care”.

Surrounding Cedar Rapids we have a circle of Critical Access Hospitals in Anamosa, Independence, Vinton and Marengo.  There is a collaborative relationship with each of these and as far away as Manchester where we’re doing a good job of keeping care that can be done sustainably and well closer to home in these rural communities.

And then there’s the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics.  Even though I compete with it, what a resource!  To have a world class academic medical center located in the heart of our region would seem to be gift enough.  Yes, their costs might be higher than community hospitals, but so is the breadth of their services and on a relative scale their costs are among the lowest of other academic medical centers around the country.  Don’t believe me?  Just go check out the average cost per case at other academic medical centers associated with Big Ten towns.

Put us all together and we have a prize asset, but one that only comes into view when you can back up and look at all of us from a regional view versus any community alone, and then compare us with the rest of the country.

So, a non-profit healthcare exec might be an odd fit for economic development, but the people, services and missions I represent fit just fine.  It’s been my privilege to speak for them.

Ted Townsend