History of Broadlawns Medical Center


In 1903, Drake University built a medical school at 406 Center Street in Des Moines. The building was utilized for nine years, and then it stood empty until 1915. Two physicians and a private investor purchased the building and established a miners' hospital. After extensive remodeling, the facility was incorporated under the laws of Iowa in 1916 as the Miners’ and Industrial Workers’ Hospital. A total of 35 beds were available for either miners or charity patients of Polk County.

Historic photo of 406 Center Street, 1903

Two years later, the Presbyterian Synod of Iowa purchased the facility and renamed it the Presbyterian Samaritan Hospital. Because the Synod was unable to redeem the property’s bonds, the facility was returned to the previous owners. A friendly lawsuit was filed in order to clear the title and property, and the hospital was eventually sold to the City of Des Moines for $95,000.

During World War I, under city management, the hospital was developed as a venereal disease institution. It was known for a period of time as the Indigent Hospital, but in 1919, the name was changed to the Des Moines City Hospital. The Des Moines Health Center was also housed within the basement of the hospital. 

A New Hospital is Built

In 1913, the Iowa Legislature authorized Polk County, among other counties, to care for tuberculosis patients who resided within the county and at the time were being cared for in tents at the County Farm. The Iowa State Tuberculosis Association (now the American Lung Association of Iowa) accomplished considerable work before the Polk County citizens approved the bond issue needed to build a new hospital. A 60-acre tract of land was purchased at 18th and Hickman Road for $64,000, and construction began in late 1922. The new building opened in April 1924. The first buildings erected consisted of a 60-bed tuberculosis unit and a 30-bed nurse dormitory. As a result of a naming contest, the name Des Moines City Hospital was renamed Broadlawns when a nurse from the Iowa State Tuberculosis Association suggested the name Broadlawns because of the spacious lawns where the hospital was located.

1925 - 1943

Soon after the new building was occupied, it became evident that additional space was needed for convalescent patients. In 1925, a wing with 40 beds was added to the hospital. That same year, the Iowa Legislature enacted legislation which mandated consolidation of all the city and county facilities under one management structure. The City Hospital, the Broadlawns County Hospital, and the Contagious Unit, which was located at 14th and Hickman Road (also known as the Pest House), were combined and became Broadlawns Polk County Public Hospital. By the late 1930’s, county officials and Broadlawns’ staff realized that a new building was needed to accommodate the combined care units.

As plans were being developed to erect another building, the word “Public” was removed from the hospital’s name, and the organization was renamed Broadlawns Polk County Hospital. After extensive work was completed by numerous citizen groups, a bond issue for $500,000 was approved to build a 150-bed, modern, acute care hospital. In 1943, the new building was opened, having been built during World War II.

Historic photo of the Broadlawns campus, 1940s, featuring vast lawns

Broadlawns School of Nursing

As the Broadlawns campus continued to grow, so did two of its distinguished educational programs. The Broadlawns Nursing School evolved from the Samaritan Hospital Training School for Nurses. The first nursing class graduated in 1921, and more than 1,050 nurses graduated from the program before it closed in 1974. In 1927, the Council on Medical Education and Hospitals of the American Medical Association approved the training of interns at Broadlawns. The first program consisted of five residents. Today, the Family Medicine Residency Program offers 24 family medicine and 4 transitional residency positions.

Broadlawns School of Nursing graduates, class of 1949

1940s to 1980s

In 1945, a committee of the Polk County Medical Society saw the need for care for the mentally ill and urged the hospital’s trustees to look into this concern. The former Contagious Unit, which was only seeing about three patients a day, was closed and remodeled to establish a unit for mentally ill patients. A five-bed psychiatric unit was built in 1951 and expanded to include another 26 beds in 1957.

The need for adolescent mental health services led to another expansion and space for 16 beds was added in 1970. In 1974, the Polk County Board of Supervisors approved the development of a community-based mental health system, and a major hospital addition, the Sidney L. Sands Center, was constructed. The 147-bed facility, Sands Center opened in 1980, named after Dr. Sidney Sands who served as the director of Psychiatric Services at Broadlawns from 1957 to 1973. He died in 1977, prior to the completion of the building.

Broadlawns Family Health Center 1970 with time period cars

In 1973, the Family Health Center (FHC) was constructed in front of the hospital. The FHC served as the medical clinic for the campus and educational facility for the Broadlawns Family Medicine Residency Program, one of the first fully-accredited family medicine programs in the Midwest..

In July 1979, the name Broadlawns Polk County Hospital was changed to the hospital's current name, Broadlawns Medical Center.


In 1991, a 35,000 square feet addition to the hospital was completed to accommodate new departments: obstetrics, surgery, intensive care, and central supply. One floor of the Sidney Sands Center was retrofitted to incorporate acute medicine, surgery, and pediatric services. Several departments, including mental health services and nursing, were moved to newly renovated areas within the hospital building.


In 2008, a $30 million master site and facilities plan was developed. The first step to address the need for additional space was to remodel an unoccupied section on the third floor of the hospital as an outpatient clinic for podiatry, orthopaedic, and general surgery services. With available space on the second floor, the Broadlawns Primary Care Clinic was created, establishing a medical home model with a continuum of care utilizing the services offered at the hospital. The expansion earned Broadlawns Medical Center recognition as a broad-based community hospital serving the primary care, chronic disease care, mental healthcare and general surgery needs of Polk County. During this same time frame, the hospital gained a statewide reputation for its advanced expertise in foot and ankle surgery and amputations prevention for patients facing complications from diabetes.

In 2009, five additional acute care mental health beds were added to the inpatient behavioral health unit. The unit's kitchen area and group room were updated through a project undertaken by the Greater Des Moines Leadership Class of 2009. The class also landscaped an outdoor courtyard area outside of the lower level of the Sands Center to create a welcoming, peaceful setting for patients and visitors.


The Broadlawns Medical Center site and facilities plan realized the completion of the first phases of the expansion and modernization in 2010. In May of that year, the hospital celebrated the opening of a new 15,000 square-foot emergency department. The new ED included a covered ambulance bay, expanded trauma treatment areas, and a separate mental healthcare observation area with four private rooms. In addition, the radiology department was modernized, including the medical center's first onsite MRI. 

In 2011, Broadlawns Medical Center completed the second and last milestone in phase 1 of its site and facilities plan. On February 21, 2011, a new main entrance to Broadlawns opened featuring a welcoming covered awning. The new entrance and main lobby created access to the new emergency department, nurse triage rooms, patient registration, and patient financial services.

In June 2011, Broadlawns Medical Center completed Phase 2 of the site and facilities plan with a new Medical Office Building (MOB). The MOB was constructed to house clinics, including the Primary Care Clinic. In September 2011, the Broadlawns Pediatric Clinic opened in the MOB thanks to a lead gift from Variety-The Children’s Charity

The surgical waiting area was expanded, modernized, and opened in July 2011.

In August 2011, construction commenced to modernize the morgue, operating rooms, and the inpatient medical-surgical unit. These renovations were completed in the fall of 2012.

In 2014, Broadlawns Medical Center celebrated its 90th Anniversary. The 13,000 square-foot MOB second floor was completed to provide clinic space for advanced specialty services. The floor was designed as a modern replacement for Orthopaedics, the Foot and Ankle Clinic and the expansion of the Primary Care Clinic. Two new clinics were introduced at this location, the Interventional Pain Center and Geriatric and Memory Center. Broadlawns opened the Laser Vein Center of Iowa with the most sophisticated, state-of-the-art equipment including the first 1470 mm laser vein technology in the Des Moines area. The Oncology and Hematology Clinic opened to assist cancer patients. Ophthalmology and optometry services were expanded at the Broadlawns Eye Clinic, and an eyeglass shop opened.

Broadlawns Medical Office building entrance

In October 2015, a groundbreaking celebration was held for a 72,000 square foot Medical Plaza building on the east side of the Broadlawns campus. The former residency housing was razed for the new medical clinic building.

In January of 2016, the Broadlawns Family Optical shop opened on the second floor of the main building with an expanded assortment of eyewear and contact lenses. In March of 2016, a newly renovated 30-bed Inpatient Behavioral Health unit was reopened featuring enhanced patient rooms, treatment suites, group activity accommodations, clinical consultation spaces and visitor areas. In August, Broadlawns assumed responsibility for administering services for mobile crisis and the crisis observation center for Polk County. In August 2016, a new three-story residency housing unit opened on the eastern-most portion of the property. The fifteen-unit building accommodates half of the Family Medicine Residents with housing on campus to provide easy access to the medical center during their training at Broadlawns. In November 2016, Broadlawns East University Clinic opened at 2508 E. University Avenue to address the unmet healthcare needs of Polk County residents from the eastern corridor of Des Moines. The 10,000 square foot clinic offers Family Medicine, Psychiatry, Orthopaedics and Urgent Care services. The Urgent Care clinic is open seven days a week.

In March 2017, the 72,000 square foot Broadlawns Medical Plaza opened to the public. The first floor of the Broadlawns Medical Plaza is the Family Health Center and serves as the home base for the Broadlawns Family Medicine Residency program. The second floor of the Broadlawns Medical Plaza is the Outpatient Mental Health Clinic which allowed for significant expansion of services and programming for intensive outpatient therapy and addiction services. The third floor of the Broadlawns Medical Plaza is the Dental Clinic which expanded from 8 operatories to twenty-two operatories to expand access to comprehensive oral medicine as well as specialty services including orthodontia, oral surgery, pediatrics and endodontics. In September 2017, the Geriatric and Memory Center moved to the first floor of the Medical Plaza. In November 2017, the Broadlawns Pain Management Center opened on the fourth floor of the Broadlawns Medical Plaza. Broadlawns has developed a multi-faceted approach to treating patients experiencing chronic pain. The Broadlawns Pain Management Center includes interventional pain, pain medication management, acupuncture, mental health and addiction services and physical therapy. In November 2017, a 14-bed expansion unit for Inpatient Behavioral Health opened on the lower level of the Sands Center. With the 14-bed unit, Broadlawns' Inpatient Behavioral Health unit now has 44 available mental health beds. The lower-level unit is focused on treating individuals with major depression. 

Broadlawns Medical Plaza entrance

In June 2018, Broadlawns opened the first psychiatric urgent care in the state of Iowa to accommodate greater access for patients experiencing an exacerbated mental health condition. The same month, Broadlawns began offering electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) services for mental health patients whose conditions have not responded to traditional therapy and treatment protocols.

In July 2019, Broadlawns assumed responsibility for administering student health and student counseling services for Drake University. Broadlawns also became the official healthcare provider for Drake student athletes. In October 2019, renovation and expansion of the Oncology and Hematology Center was completed, providing modernized facilities for cancer patients. The renovation incorporated space for privacy and visitors as patients receive chemotherapy infusions and an elevator was added to facilitate access to the second-floor clinic. In November 2019, Broadlawns relocated its downtown clinic to a new mixed-use complex on SW 9th Street to improve access to primary care, urgent care and specialty services for downtown and south Des Moines residents. 


In August 2020, construction of the 41,900 square foot addition to the Sands inpatient hospital was completed.  The new third floor to the hospital includes 10 spacious LDRP (labor, delivery, recovery and post-partum) suites with a nurturing environment for delivering mothers and their newborns, six ICU suites that are equipped for isolation and negative airflow capability, and 20 med-surg patient suites.  With the opening of the new floor, all med-surg suites shifted to single occupancy patient rooms. 

In September of 2023, construction of the Broadlawns Community Clinic at Drake was completed. This new clinic serves the surrounding Drake neighborhood as well as the Drake University students, faculty and staff. The clinic includes services like routine wellness exams, vaccinations, non-emergent, acute illnesses & injuries, urgent care, mental health, family medicine, physical therapy, and a rotation of specialties. This clinic also serves as the new home for the Drake University Student Health Center.

In November of 2023, the remodel of the Broadlawns Variety Pediatric Clinic was completed. The 1,700 square foot Pediatric Clinic provides compassionate healthcare for Polk County’s littlest patients, offering health screenings, vaccinations, acute and chronic care, and treatment of injuries. As a public healthcare provider, Broadlawns accepts patients with Medicaid and Medicare health coverage, as well as those with commercial insurance. The remodel enhanced the efficiency of the space, with improvements to intake, patient flow, safety, and the addition of three exam rooms. Broadlawns also partnered with Iowa-based artist, Laura Palmer, the illustrator behind XO-LP, for a bold and brightly colored mural at the clinic entrance. Laura’s work is also featured in the Broadlawns Family Birthing Center.     

The trustees, administrative leadership and the dedicated staff at Broadlawns Medical Center are committed to fulfilling the hospital’s mission of ensuring access to high quality, affordable healthcare for everyone in Polk County. New programs, new services, and advanced medical expertise are incorporated to meet the evolving healthcare needs of Polk County. Broadlawns' vision is to be the best public hospital in the United States.