Wheaton Franciscan writes "Open Letter to the People of Oelwein" - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare calls for buyer of Mercy Hospital, or end of controversy

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OELWEIN (KWWL) -

Years of controversy over an Eastern Iowa hospital came to a head Tuesday. The president of Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare placed a full-page ad in the Oelwein Daily Register, calling for the community to make a decision: either purchase Mercy Hospital or choose to support the way the company operates in the community.

The controversy over the hospital is nothing new. In fact, our coverage of battles between Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare and several Oelwein care providers dates back to 2007.

Wheaton Franciscan recently closed the surgery unit at Mercy, and local doctors said it's just one more example that the company cares more about money than medicine.

"I also feel that they will close the facility as an acute care facility very soon, and it's very unfortunate. We have to find a better way," said Oelwein Dr. Anthony Leo in August of this year.

"I think, primarily, the dispute is between professionals within the field. And, unfortunately, our community has gotten caught in the middle of it," said Larry Murphy, Mayor of Oelwein.

On Tuesday, the CEO and President of Wheaton Franciscan, Jack Dusenbery, was effectively trying to end the controversy in Oelwein with "An Open Letter to the People of Oelwein."

The letter states, "In recent years, loud voices have questioned our commitment, worked publicly and subversively to undermine the future of the hospital and made what should be a point of pride and community unity a point of contention and division. While we do not believe they represent the majority of opinion, what they are doing is destroying their local hospital and we believe it must end. To that end, with the support of the Board of Directors of Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare -- Iowa, we make the following offer. If it is truly the desire of the Oelwein Community, as expressed through the City Council, to operate Mercy Hospital, we will sell the hospital for the price of eight million dollars."

"It's a challenge to the local foundation that's been formed, that if you feel like you want different ownership, to go do the fundraising and see if they can purchase the hospital," Murphy said.

Murphy is referring to the Oelwein Health Care Foundation -- a group of Wheaton Franciscan opponents who would like to see different management in place. Leaders from the foundation did not return our calls Tuesday evening. But we can tell you, they recently began the process of becoming a non-profit corporation in order to raise funds. Now, they have the opportunity to purchase the hospital, within 90 days.

"Number one, can they raise the money to do that? Number two, can they contract? And that's what's going to happen. They will have to contract with some healthcare system," Murphy said.

Murphy said there are very few cities in Iowa which operate their own hospital -- it's more common on a county level. He said the city council will evaluate all of their options, including partnering with a different health care company, in the coming weeks.

If there is no offer by mid-March, Wheaton Franciscan will continue operating, and asks that the community leave the controversy in the past. But there is no doubt, this letter will spark some heated discussion in the weeks to come.

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