After a special meeting Wednesday night, the city of Zearing appears ready to buy the Story County Medical Center’s building in town and then proceed with negotiations with Hansen Family Hospital to get another clinic up and running.

Mayor Martin Herr told the small town’s City Council that while it had approved the city’s purchase of the medical center’s building in the days before, the operating terms with Hansen, which would staff the proposed clinic, had “changed tremendously.” Before he signed the papers to buy the clinic, he wanted to make sure they were in the know.

Zearing and the NESCO Family Clinic Board were originally raising money to construct a new building that would house a clinic, wellness center and first responders. That new clinic would also give Mary O’Connor, an advanced registered nurse practitioner, a place in town where she could again practice. O’Connor had previously served hundreds of patients from around the area out of Zearing’s Story County clinic, but she left in May 2017 and has since practiced at Hansen’s Iowa Falls hospital.

But this year, Zearing was given the chance to purchase the Story County building at 112 W. Main St., and the City Council voted to buy the property for $105,000. But even as terms with Hansen sit unresolved, the council told Herr to proceed with the purchase.

O’Connor spoke at Wednesday’s meeting at City Hall and outlined Hansen’s basic proposal for the new clinic: a 50-50 split of the expenses and the revenue. If the clinic makes money, the city or the NESCO board — whichever takes jurisdiction over the clinic — would stand to benefit. If it loses money, then the folks in Zearing would have to pay its half.

“I want to be the one to provide care here,” O’Connor said, admitting that the proposal would be a gamble for Zearing, which has a population of about 500. She attributed the change in the terms to recent turnover in Hansen’s leadership.

The finer details on the proposal still need to be worked out, and those discussions will kickoff today when Zearing representatives, City Councilwoman Sandy Perisho and NESCO board President Rick Reed, meet Hansen’s CEO. Herr, who can’t go to the meeting, said Hansen could possibly put a cap on the expenses Zearing would have to pay for the clinic.

Discussion among the council turned into a cost-benefit analysis that spanned beyond the clinic. Council members said it would help support the town’s nursing home and pharmacy as well as, in general, bring more people to town who need to see O’Connor. She said she’d see around 400 patients per month when she previously worked in Zearing.

“If we don’t try it, I think we’re shooting ourselves in the foot,” Perisho said.

O’Connor told the council that going 50-50 with Hansen would at least keep Zearing’s contributions in town. She and the council agreed that fundraising for the facility would have to continue. So far, the NESCO board has raised about $100,000 (combining actual contributed dollars and money pledged), but that money was for the original plan, the brand-new facility. The board will have to make sure it can still use the money to buy the existing building.

“It’s more workable than what the other one was,” Herr said of buying the Story County facility. He added that he’s heard from four other people who say they plan to donate to the project even though it’s changed.

O’Connor said she’d rather see the city spend some money to buy the clinic and save some of the funds that have been donated. That way, Zearing will have at least some cash on hand in case it needed to pay some expenses up front. But she said it’s possible the clinic could turn a profit if enough people come to see her. (Local officials portray her as popular in the area, someone who brings in patients not just from Zearing.)

“You’ve got to spend some money to make some money,” O’Connor said.

Likely to quell any fear in the room of Hansen backing out of the deal, she told the council the hospital is committed to the clinic even in today’s turbulent health care climate. She told the members if Hansen had wanted to, they could’ve reassigned her and prevented a return to Zearing.

Councilman Rick Good said not giving the clinic a try could be “a nail in the coffin” for Zearing.

Because the council already approved it, Herr said he would begin the process of signing the paperwork to buy the Story County building today, the same day Zearing representatives would meet with Hansen leadership.

“Let’s go up and see what they say,” Councilman David Tisdale said.

Press release issued by Story County Medical Center last Thursday:

With a long history of collaboration, Story County Medical Center (Story Medical) and the City of Zearing (City) are announcing plans for the City to purchase from Story Medical the existing clinic facility in Zearing. The target date for completion of this transaction is June 30, 2018.

Upon transfer of ownership, the City will work with a new provider group to establish a primary care practice in the community. Story Medical is working in collaboration with the City to make this transition as smooth as possible and to ensure that the people of northeast Story County continue to have convenient access to high quality, primary healthcare services.

“The physicians and staff of Story Medical are committed to coordinating care with Zearing’s new primary care team to offer as many options as possible for the people of northeast Story County to access advanced care and specialized services close to home,” says Story Medical CEO, Nate Thompson. “The Trustees and leadership of Story Medical look forward to supporting the City of Zearing during this transition and in its new primary care partnership.”

The current Story Medical Clinic – Zearing provider, Rachel Frederick, PA-C, will relocate her practice to Story Medical Clinic – Nevada, along with her existing care team. For those patients interested in continuing to see Rachel in Nevada, no additional action is required. All medical records will be transferred, and a staff member from Story Medical Clinic – Nevada will reach out to confirm appointments that have already been scheduled. Rachel will begin seeing patients in Nevada on Monday, July 9th.

“I am joined by my many neighbors here in Zearing as we welcome a new chapter for the community,” Said Mayor Martin Herr. “With this transition, I believe we can establish an approach to local medical care that will serve many people in the region into the next decade.”