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CBJ Report: Mercy Medical Center begins work on Inpatient Rehab Unit

File photo of Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids. (CBS2/FOX28)

Mercy Medical Center begins work on Inpatient Rehab Unit

Mercy Medical Center in Ceder Rapids has begun a roughly $5-million-plus renovation of the hospital's seventh floor to create a new Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit.

The year-long project will result in 22 colorful rehab-ready rooms with spacious bathrooms and smart boards to keep patients up to date on changes to their day's schedule, hospital spokeswoman Karen Vander Sanden said. An apartment-like space on the new unit will provide a space for patients to practice skills like cooking, laundry and getting in and out of a bathtub before they return home.

The renovations will include a new Transitional Care Unit, and a new rehab gym including a Zero G anti-gravity machine that safely holds the patient. It will also include equipment to help patients improve their balance, walking and other daily activities.

Rinderknecht Associates is general contractor for the project, which is slated for completion in October 2019.

Mercy "is committed to investing in our rehabilitation programs and services to enhance the quality of patient care and improve patients' functional abilities and independence necessary for a full recovery," Ms. Vander Sanden said.

UI study: Iowa faces physician assistant shortage

Already facing a shortage of primary care physicians, the state of Iowa also may soon face a shortage of physician assistants, according to a new study from the University of Iowa.

The study found that 32 percent of the state's 873 physician assistants (PAs) were age 50 or older in 2015, says co-author Tom Gruca, professor of marketing in the Tippie College of Business. He says the dropout rate already averages 5 percent per year, a number that will increase significantly as PAs retire, if the trend continues.

"Iowa faces a challenge to recruit and retain 30 percent of its entire PA workforce in the next 15 years," Mr. Gruca wrote. He points out that a higher proportion of Iowa's PAs practice in primary care-56 percent-when compared to the nation as a whole-30 percent.

Iowa has become increasingly dependent upon PAs to provide primary care services in recent decades, filling the gaps as the number of practicing primary care physicians has declined in most parts of the state. This is particularly true in rural counties, many of which have such a severe shortage they have too few primary care physicians to meet the growing needs of an aging population. Gruca says 30 percent of Iowa's PA workforce practice in rural areas, compared to 15 percent nationwide.

Also, 44 percent of the state's PAs practice in the 61 counties the federal government designates as underserved by primary care physicians. Many of those underserved counties also have high percentages of elderly residents who require additional health care services, and a shortage of PAs would significantly affect that population.

The state for years had only two schools with PA training programs-the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and Des Moines University-that trained about half of all PAs who provide care to Iowans. But the study found only about 25 percent of graduates from those programs were still practicing in Iowa in 2015, the remaining having either moved to another state, left their practice, or retired.

Two other Iowa universities recently started training programs-St. Ambrose University in Davenport in 2016 and the University of Dubuque in 2018-but Mr. Gruca says those programs may not produce enough graduates to offset the anticipated losses in coming years.

National Apprenticeship Week highlights opportunities in Iowa

Employers and officials are gearing up to celebrate Registered Apprenticeship Appreciation Week, starting next Monday.

IowaWORKS centers across the state will be holding events focused on increasing the number of Iowans in apprenticeships.

In Cedar Rapids, officials will host an expo on Wednesday at Goodwill Industries on Blairs Ferry Road. In Waterloo, Hawkeye Community College will host tours of its new trade education spaces on Friday.

You can find the full slate of events around the state at the National Apprenticeship Week website.

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