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When Seconds Count
By Carol McGarvey | Photography by Tim Abramowitz
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caring for aging parents

When time and circumstances are critical, emergency services at Mercy Medical Center – West Lakes offer more options to area residents.

In one of the “If you build it, they will come” scenarios, Mercy Medical Center-West Lakes has seen steady growth in patient usage since it opened 18 months ago. The full-service community hospital in West Des Moines takes pride in its 24/7 emergency department, state-of-the-art surgery center, orthopaedic/rehabilitation unit, family-centered birthing services unit, and advanced cardiac catheterization lab.

Bob Nolan, 81, of West Des Moines knows firsthand of the complete services provided at Mercy West Lakes. “Sure, with the freeway it’s easy to get to Mercy downtown, but it’s great to have this beautiful, new hospital close at hand.”

Last November 12, a Friday, after experiencing extreme fatigue and nausea Bob went to the hospital’s emergency room, where a chest X-ray showed a shadow on a lung. “They decided to perform a CT scan with the hope, of course, of confirming that it was indeed a shadow.” Bob stayed the weekend at the hospital to get stronger, and a biopsy on Monday at Mercy Medical Center-Des Moines showed a cancerous growth, stage I lung cancer.

His oncologist recommended surgery; fortunately the growth was self-contained in the lung, and no radiation or chemotherapy was needed.    

“The staff at Mercy West Lakes found the problem right away, and I am so grateful,” Bob says.

Would he go back? “Absolutely. I’d go back anytime, especially to visit someone else,” he says with a hearty laugh.

One who can attest to the expanding patient usage at
the new hospital is Jeff Jarding, manager of the West Lakes emergency department. “We draw from a wide area—West Des Moines, Polk City, Waukee, Stuart, and so many other spots northwest, west, and southwest. From a location 30 miles out, for example, coming to Mercy West Lakes is a big relief for patients. It literally cuts off 20 minutes from going to the downtown Mercy location. That can be critical, especially if someone is driving a family member to get to the closest
hospital for help.”

The turnaround time for help, he explains, can easily be an hour sooner.

“We are a Level IV Trauma Center and can cover maternity, operating room, and catheterization lab emergencies. If someone comes here on their own and needs to go to Mercy, we
immediately transport them there. If someone is coming in an ambulance, the EMS services people know which hospital to go to, depending on the patient’s critical needs.”

From the first days of Mercy West Lakes, the hospital has been pleased with patient usage. “In the first six months of
opening, we had 6,076 patients,” Jarding says. “In the past six months, that number has grown to 6,801 patients, so there is steady growth, for sure.”

He points out that with the approximately 1,200 patients per month at Mercy West Lakes, the pressure eases a bit at Mercy downtown.

“We have board-certified emergency-trained physicians on staff 24/7, along with emergency room technicians and nurses, so we can fully handle the patients who come here.” Jeff worked at Mercy for seven years before transferring to the new facility.

Mercy’s Other Emergency Services

Central Campus Emergency Department (Downtown). Located in downtown Des Moines at Mercy’s Central Campus, the Emergency Department is certified as a Level II Trauma Center by the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma. The designation indicates Mercy Trauma Services are dedicated to optimal care for adult and pediatric patients. It also means there is 24-hour in-house coverage by a trauma surgeon, along with immediate access to orthopaedic surgery, neurosurgery, anesthesiology, pediatric emergency and critical care services, radiology, and adult critical care.

Children’s Emergency Center (Downtown). With dedicated pediatric emergency staff and specialists, the center offers emergency pediatric nurses, physicians, child life specialists, and other support staff focusing on children’s care. Child-friendly rooms and equipment help provide comfortable care for children and their families. Last year Mercy’s Children’s Emergency Center handled more than 14,000 visits for illnesses and injuries.

Ambulance services. Mercy ambulances are mobile intensive care units with 35 paramedic and EMT specialists. The ambulance service is based at Mercy’s downtown campus and works with regional hospitals to transport patients back to Des Moines-area hospitals.

Mercy One to the Rescue

One might think that Jeff Johnston, a flight team nurse for Mercy One’s air ambulance service, and his colleagues would have a high burnout and turnover rate. Given their high-stress positions and the sense of urgency they live with daily, that might be something to consider.

However, that’s not the case.  “I absolutely love my job,” Johnston says. “Taking care of people is what I do.”  Indeed it is. He was on Mercy’s original helicopter crew 25 years ago in 1986. “The average turnover of nurses is 10 to 15 years. But on our crews, the numbers are significantly lower.” There are 37 pilots, nurses, and medics devoted to Mercy One’s operation.

Johnston says Mercy expanded its air ambulance fleet last summer with the addition of a second helicopter to meet an increasing demand for service. Because of the need in southeast Iowa, the second aircraft is based at the Knoxville airport. Communities benefiting from the second helicopter include Pella, Knoxville, Oskaloosa, Ottumwa, Albia, Centerville, Chariton, Corydon, and Bloomfield, as well as the rural areas surrounding them.

The Mercy One helicopter that serves a 75-mile radius around Des Moines is the state’s fastest air ambulance, a Bell 429 helicopter. The new aircraft in Knoxville is a Bell 407. Dispatchers at Mercy’s Central Campus determine which aircraft better fits a patient’s care needs. 

Johnston says that in 2009, Mercy One received 1,320 requests for patient transport. Of those, 433 came from the southeast Iowa corridor. Mercy One made 714 actual flights that year, with 264 coming from southeast Iowa. “The need continues to increase,” he explains. “In fact, 2010 was our busiest year ever, with 1,400 requests and 760 actual patient missions.”

There are nine medically-equipped helicopters in the state. Occasionally Mercy One transports patients to hospitals in Omaha, Nebraska, or Rochester, Minnesota. Once in a while, it travels into northern Missouri.

“Depending on the patient’s needs, we transport to Mercy Medical Center – Des Moines or to Mercy West Lakes, as both have helipads, as well as to other area hospitals,” he explains. Each helicopter team includes a registered nurse, a paramedic, and a pilot. A specialized neonatal team also is available when needed.




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