Should Iowa’s Hospital Licensing Board be eliminated?

Story County Medical Center in Nevada, Iowa, is one of 118 hospitals in Iowa. (Photo by Clark Kauffman, Iowa Capital Dispatch)

The Iowa Hospital Licensing Board, which has long been accused of being a tool of the hospital industry, would be eliminated under a bill now being considered by state lawmakers.

The board is controlled largely by active and retired hospital executives. Although its name suggests it’s responsible for the licensing of hospitals, it actually is tasked with advising the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, which regulates hospitals, on the rules and standards that apply to Iowa’s 118 hospitals.

The board’s six members are appointed by the governor, and they meet four times per year, typically for about one hour. The board has operated with only four members since July of last year.

Should Senate Study Bill 3111 be approved, the Iowa Department of Public Health, in conjunction with the state Board of Health, would adopt the rules that establish the standards by which hospitals are regulated.

At a State Government legislative subcommittee meeting Wednesday, officials from the inspections department told lawmakers the licensing board was identified as a potential target for elimination as a way to make government more efficient.

Abhay Nadipuram, a lobbyist for the Iowa Hospital Association, told subcommittee members the association is opposed to the elimination of the board.

“The hospitals have always had a good relationship with the licensing board,” he said. “The board has been a really good intermediary for the hospitals.”

The subcommittee agreed to approve the bill for further consideration at the full committee level.

Several years ago, the Hospital Licensing Board drew the ire of Dean Lerner, then the head of the inspections department. Lerner was trying to persuade the board to approve a measure requiring hospitals to make public so-called “never events” — medical errors that should never occur because they are preventable and threaten the health of patients.

Such events include injuries or deaths associated with the use of contaminated drugs, the discharge of newborn infants to the wrong patients, surgery on the wrong body part or wrong patient, and artificial insemination with the wrong sperm or donor egg.

The proposal died when none of the board members was willing to make a motion to bring the matter to a vote, prompting Lerner to walk out and declare that “special interests have taken over government.”

Lannie Miller was then one of the board’s lay members, tasked with representing the interests of average Iowans. He stopped attending meetings at the time, saying he was “disgusted” with the way the group handled issues. “It’s the fox guarding the hen house,” he said then. “It’s made up of people involved in the hospitals. I’m fed up. The hell with it.”