With a potential COVID-19 peak on the horizon in Pottawattamie County, community partners have stepped up to offer temporary housing for health care workers — should the need arise.
One floor of an unoccupied Iowa Western Community College dormitory has been prepped to take on staff from Methodist Jennie Edmundson and CHI Mercy hospitals in Council Bluffs. And, more recently, Pork Belly Ventures has provided portable air-conditioned motel rooms and showers on the Mercy campus.
“We have staff who have family members who are immunocompromised,” nurse Leigh Bagshaw, director of patient services at Mercy, said in discussing nurses and support staff who might consider using one of the options should a COVID-19 spike happen. “This provides an option for our staff to stay and not potentially impact their family.”
The sister-brother ownership team of Tammy Pavich and Pete Phillips explained that Pork Belly Ventures, in business for 27 years, provides a “luxury version” of accommodations for bicycle ride events. With many rides canceled, including RAGBRAI, the trailers were unfortunately sitting idle.
“It was a time when we were feeling frustrated, nobody needing us,” Pavich said, noting that when Tara Slevin, vice president of development and volunteer services at Jennie Ed called, “we immediately said ‘yes.’”
“Our goal is to provide support to our employees working on the front lines,” Slevin said, noting that in the early days of the pandemic staff expressed concern about bringing the disease home. “Anything we can do form a support side to make things more comfortable.”
The housing options are a partnership between the hospitals and their hospital foundations, Pottawattamie County Public Health, Pork Belly Ventures and Iowa Western. The Southwest Iowa Foundation is funding use of the trailers. The Council Bluffs Police Department is patrolling the trailer area hourly to ensure personal and property safety.
“This is a community wide effort,” Slevin said.
So far, no hospital staff has used the accommodations at the trailers or Iowa Western, according to Slevin and Abby Jares with Mercy. But they’re ready, if needed. According to the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which operates healthdata.org, Iowa’s projected COVID-19 peak is May 5.
The Pork Belly owners said their small business, like many throughout the area and far beyond, has been hurt by the pandemic. They’re hopeful that by fall, at the latest, bicycle ride events will be able to resume and businesses will be able to return to some kind of normal.
“Before there’s any path forward for any of us, what we all have to do is get behind health care workers in any way we can,” Phillips said. “Those are the people that are going to turn this around. Anything we can do to help those people is the path forward for all of us.”
Bagshaw said nurses and other staff at area hospitals have been stepping up to do what’s necessary to treat COVID-19 patients and prepare for the possibility of more.
“We’re appreciative of our community and their support of ensuring a safe sleeping option for our staff,” Bagshaw said.
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