With the public health disaster order issued by Gov. Kim Reynolds today, the Iowa Department of Public Health is authorized to begin mobilizing “as many public health response teams as are necessary to supplement and support disrupted or overburdened local medical and public health personnel, hospitals, and resources” as allowed under state statutes. Under the guidelines of the state’s emergency operations plan, the members of those teams shall be considered state employees. 

What will the governor’s order mean for Greater Des Moines’ health systems and the Polk County Health Department? 

“All of our health partners continue to focus on the most urgent needs,” said Nola Aigner Davis, public information officer with the Polk County Health Department, in an email response coordinated with MercyOne Des Moines, UnityPoint Health-Des Moines, Broadlawns Medical Center and the Iowa Clinic. Davis said that more updated information will be provided after medical teams meet later this afternoon. 

The health systems in Polk County have established a medical coordination center. Through this center, they established the 211 medical call line. This line is staffed by trained nurses who will answer medical COVID-19 questions Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. “This center is continuously coming up with new ideas to better serve our patients who visit our hospitals and clinics,” Davis said. 

During a livestreamed update on Monday afternoon, Broadlawns’ chief medical officer, Dr. Yogesh Shah, said the local hospitals are in “very short supply” of materials such as coronavirus test kits and respirator masks. Additionally, there are a limited number of intensive care unit beds among the Des Moines hospitals that are equipped with negative airflow to properly handle COVID-19 patients, he said. 

Shah emphasized that people who suspect they may have the COVID-19 virus should call 211 to determine whether they need to be tested, and to not go to the hospital or a clinic unless they are directed to by the provider through 211. 

Davis said the benefit of the governor’s public health emergency declaration is that it removes regulatory burdens that could hinder accessing more resources. 

Currently, admissions at Broadlawns, MercyOne and UnityPoint Health hospitals in Des Moines and West Des Moines have been at normal volume, with the addition of screening for COVID-19, according to the Polk County Health Department. There is capacity at all hospitals right now, Davis said.