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Longtime medical shop to close

BY SAM LANE | NOVEMBER 09, 2009 7:20 AM

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Tucked in the underground quarters of the UI Medical Laboratories Building, workers have made and repaired UI Hospitals and Clinics tools for decades.

But financial constraints are now forcing the 86-year-old shop to close.

The department has lost $300,000 since 2000 because of competition from companies, and it is currently operating on a deficit, said UI spokesman Tom Moore, noting the closure will save the university $750,000 a year.

Despite the cost savings, doctors and surgeons who often rely on the shop said they are worried about its closure.

UIHC neurosurgery Professor Matthew Howard said his department turns to the shop’s employees to help design and build experimental surgical devices.

“They have provided really important services,” he said. “It’s a serious loss. I’m not sure what we’re going to do.”

One person close to the facility’s work, who asked not to be named pending final decisions on the matter, said the closure will force all repairs and construction of medical equiment to be outsourced to local companies, none of which have been determined yet.

“I’ve heard comments from various departments,” the person said. “They’re upset. Where will they get this work done? It will be costlier for some departments to replace.”

Employees first learned the news when a representative from the Carver College of Medicine visited the shop on Oct. 20. Because of the closing, workers will either be relocated to a different UI department or be laid off, Moore said.

The employees have a long history in the department — their average tenure is roughly 30 years, according to a listing hanging inside the shop.

“The employees are highly experienced and greatly valued,” Moore said. “We are making plans to continue meeting the needs that are purchased from the shop.”

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union will direct the process of the employees’ relocation.

Employees in such situations must receive 20 days notice before being relocated or laid off, said Danny Homan, the president of the union’s Iowa Council 61, which oversees the shop’s workers. Homan added he has not seen a formal layoff plan from the UI.

The employer must also inform employees of their bumping rights, the ability to bump employees in a different department who have less seniority than they do.

Homan was unsure whether the practice would occur because the shop’s employees are “one-of-a-kind.”

The shop moved into the Medical Laboratories in 1927. The expansive room is filled with heavy machinery equipped to make some of the most complex technology used at the hospital.

Spiraled cords run from the equipment, and tools occupy shelves throughout the facility. Its clients extend from the UIHC to across the globe.

Even with an international presence, the number of other shops capable of making similar machines have increased, bringing in fewer customers to the Medical Instrument Shop in recent years.

UI officials said they have not yet determined a timetable for the closure, though sources close to the shop say they were told it would close by the end of the year.

The shop’s supervisor, Jerry Swails, declined to comment.


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