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Healthy Communities A Priority For Iowa Farm Families

Healthy Communities A Priority For Iowa Farm Families

What's happening in the western Iowa town of Carroll is proof that when farmers do well, the communities do well, too.

By Aaron Putze

Ask Trish Roberts to define the mission of St. Anthony Regional Hospital in Carroll, a county-seat town in western Iowa, and the facility's development director quickly lights up with an answer. "To serve the healthcare, education and spiritual needs of our community," she replies without hesitation.

Fulfilling that mission, however, takes more than just words. It requires teamwork, hard work and financial resources.

From her office, Roberts enjoys a panoramic view of the south edge of Carroll. Not to be missed are vast acres of fertile Carroll County farmland. The 18-year St. Anthony staff member is a strong proponent of agriculture and respects the honesty, hard work and generosity of area farmers. It's not surprising, therefore, that when the time arrived in 2009 to kick start a 12-month, $1 million campaign to renovate St. Anthony's emergency department, Roberts looked to the farm community for help.

Agriculture and health care are both a bedrock of a strong community

"Agriculture and health care have a lot in common," she says. "Both are the bedrock of a community. When farmers do well, we all do well. And when health care is strong, we're all strong. It's a win-win when we all pull together and work together."

It's also proof that when farmers have an opportunity to grow and prosper, communities like Carroll do the same. This includes timely access to quality medical services. Each year, nearly 90,000 people receive care at St. Anthony. The modern facility serves a seven-county area and features state-of-the-art equipment, more than 630 employees and nearly 40 full-time physicians, physician assistants and advanced registered nurse practitioners.

The hospital's history, just like many of its neighboring farm families, is a rich one that's deeply rooted in Carroll County. Reverend Joseph Kuemper founded St. Anthony in 1905 with the help of the Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration from LaCrosse, Wis. It prides itself in offering quality health services so people can be cared for locally.

Understand that an investment is needed to provide quality health care

To help meet the growing demand, Roberts, hospital staff and devoted volunteers have conducted four capital campaigns during the past 16 years.

In June 2008, for example, the team launched a 7-month campaign that raised nearly $1.3 million. The funds were used to construct an educational center that provides space for continuing education and training for St. Anthony staff.

By late-spring 2009, Roberts and her team began making plans to raise an additional $1 million to renovate the hospital's emergency department. The project would improve the quality of emergency care and enhance privacy for patients and staff.

"We knew that to be successful, we had to expand our donor pool," Roberts says. "We looked to the farming community because farm families understand that minutes can be important when it comes to quality health care."

To get things started, hospital staff and volunteers visited with area farmers and ag leaders about the project and its feasibility. "People absolutely identified with the need during those early discussions," Roberts says.

Despite a slumping ag economy at the time, the response was great

Despite a slumping ag economy at the time, the initial response was tremendous. Eighteen couples with ties to agriculture agreed to serve as the fundraising committee. They, in turn, reached out to a larger group – around several hundred donors – and the pledges began. "We knew the campaign was starting during a very difficult time for farmer and ag businesses," Roberts says. "Farm prices had not been good for quite some time and the future didn't look all that good either. Yet the committee was undeterred. Two farm families got things started with lead gifts of $100,000 each and we were on our way."

Along with cash investments, farmers and ag businesses have donated corn, soybeans and real estate to help raise nearly $1.2 million. Overall, nearly 60 percent of the emergency department donors are affiliated with agriculture.

"The farm community's response tells me that people are good and that farmers value what St. Anthony does for the region," Roberts says. "Farmers understood the need and responded. They really stepped to the plate and everyone will benefit because of their generosity."

That generosity continues today during times of strong ag prices

And that generosity continues today during times of strong ag prices.

"A farmer recently brought in a donation from the sale of grain and the amount was about 50 percent more than we were expecting," Roberts says. "He was aware of that but said it had been a very good year and hoped to provide the same level of support again next year."

"It's proof," she adds, "that when farmers do well, our communities do well, too."

In addition to serving the immediate health care needs of the community, Roberts says the campaign also helped attract new volunteers and donors.

"When one gives of their time or financial resources, it becomes a habit," she says. "We had an important campaign that a new generation of farmers and residents could connect to and ultimately benefit from. This will make our community even stronger for generations to come."

Putze serves as director of external relations and coordinator of the Iowa Food & Family Project (www.iowafoodandfamily.como) for the Iowa Soybean Association. He can be reached at 515-334-1099 or The Iowa Food & Family Project is funded in part by the soybean checkoff.

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