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The History of Broadlawns Medical Center

Broadlawns Medical Center has a longstanding history of attending to the medical needs of Polk County residents.  With its origins dating back to 1903, the hospital was established to provide medical care for the indigent, and the same mission of service drives the hospital today.

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.

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.  

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 became Broadlawns.  A nurse from the Iowa State Tuberculosis Association suggested the name for the hospital because of the spacious lawns where the hospital was located.

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 a consolidation act, which consolidated all of 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 and 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.

Before a bond was issued to approve building a new facility, the word “Public” was taken out of the hospital’s name, changing it to 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.

As the Broadlawns’ building structure 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 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.

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 for the care of 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 new addition of 16 beds in 1970.  In 1974, the Polk County Board of Supervisors approved the development of a community-based mental health system.  A major addition to Broadlawns was undertaken that added a 147-bed facility in 1980 as the Sidney L. Sands Center.  Dr. Sands served as the director of Psychiatric Services at Broadlawns from 1957 to 1973.  He died in 1977, prior to the completion of the building.

In 1973, the Family Health Center was added to the campus as the Family Medicine Residency Program’s model office.  Currently, this building also houses the Broadlawns Dental Clinic.

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

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

In 2008, a $30 million Broadlawns Site and Facilities Plan was launched.  In a first step to ease the growing needs for space, an unoccupied section on the third floor of the hospital was remodeled to provide needed outpatient clinic space for podiatric, orthopaedic, and general surgery services.  This move opened space on the second floor to create the new Broadlawns Primary Care Clinic, which expanded access through a medical home model of primary care with a continuum of care options through the other 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, the hospital gained a statewide reputation for its advanced, state-of-the-art services in foot and ankle surgery and work in the prevention of lower limb amputations due to complications of diabetes.

In 2009, five acute care mental health beds were added to the inpatient mental health unit, and this 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 a courtyard area just outside the lower level of the Sands building to create a welcoming, peaceful setting for patients.

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 the new 15,000 square-foot emergency department.  The new ED included a covered ambulance bay, expanded trauma treatment areas, and a separate mental healthcare area with four private rooms.  In addition, the radiology department was modernized to include the medical center's first onsite MRI. 

In 2011, Broadlawns Medical Center completed the second and last milestone in Phase 1 of the Site and Facilities modernization project.  On February 21, 2011, a new main entrance to Broadlawns was opened featuring a more convenient and accessible street level entrance with a covered awning.  The new entrance better meets the needs of patients and visitors.  Included in this opening, a new main lobby was unveiled with a remodeled entrance to the Emergency Department, along with new and convenient nurse triage, 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 that houses the Primary Health Clinic.  Variety-The Children’s Charity provided a substantial donation for a new Pediatric Clinic, which opened in September 2011 in the Medical Office Building. 

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

In August 2011, construction was undertaken to modernize the morgue, the mental health waiting areas, operating rooms, and the inpatient medical, surgical, and pediatric unit.  These renovations were completed in the fall of 2012.

In the spring of 2013, the patient examination rooms Family Health Center were renovated.

In 2014, Broadlawns Medical Center celebrated its 90th Anniversary.  The second floor of the Medical Office Building was completed this same year. The 13,000 square-foot medical office building second floor was completed to provide greater access to advanced specialty treatment and technology. The floor was designed as a modern replacement for Orthopaedics and the Foot and Ankle Clinics, and the project expanded the Primary Care services. Two new clinics were introduced at this location - the Interventional Pain Center and Geriatric Medicine and Memory Center. In 2014, Broadlawns opened the Laser Vein Center of Iowa. The Vein Center was launched with the most sophisticated, state-of-the-art equipment including the first 1470 mm laser vein technology in the Des Moines area. An Oncology Clinic was another service that was added to assist patients battling cancer.  The Ophthalmology and Optometry services of the Broadlawns Eye Clinic were expanded and an eyeglass shop was also opened in 2014.

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

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 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 Inpatient Behavioral Health unit was reopened featuring enhanced patient rooms, treatment suites, group activity accommodations, clinical consultation spaces and visitor areas. 

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, 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. ECT therapy will be offered in this unit in the spring of 2018.

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 the fall of 2018, construction commenced on a hospital expansion initiative.  A 42,000 square foot hospital floor is being added to the hospital which will accommodate a new family birthing center, a new ICU unit and additional med-surg patient rooms.  When the new floor is completed in the summer of 2020, Broadlawns will shift to single occupancy med-surg rooms.

In October 2019, renovations were completed in the Broadlawns Oncology and Hematology Center to provide a more therapeutic environment for cancer patients who are undergoing treatment and/or chemotherapy under the care of the oncology staff.

In November 2019, Broadlawns opened a new clinic in the Cityville development, located just south of downtown Des Moines.

The staff and leadership at Broadlawns Medical Center are committed to fulfilling the hospital’s mission of providing high quality care to the residents of Polk County.  New programs, new services, and advanced medical expertise are constantly being added and updated to meet the evolving needs of Polk County for the highest quality healthcare.


1801 Hickman Road, Des Moines, IA 50314-1597 | Phone 515-282-2200
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