Iowa State University prepares to volunteer critical equipment to health care professionals fighting COVID-19

AMES, Iowa – Iowa State University is rounding up supplies from every corner of campus that could help medical professionals deal with the ongoing response to COVID-19.

Senior Vice President and Provost Jonathan Wickert issued a call on Monday for ISU personnel to begin an inventory of personal protective equipment, including respirators, gloves, masks and gowns, that have been in short supply in areas experiencing intense viral outbreaks. Responses started pouring in immediately, said William Diesslin, associate director of environmental health and safety. Labs and scientific facilities across campus routinely make use of personal protective equipment, and many lab managers have offered their supplies to the COVID-19 response. Less than 48 hours after Wickert’s initial appeal, Diesslin said the campus community had entered nearly 130 supply line items in an inventory. 

Diesslin, working as part of the ISU COVID-19 workforce protection planning group, has led the effort to maintain that inventory and contact local medical facilities to let them know what’s available. Diesslin has already committed over 200 N95 respirators to the Thielen Student Health Center at Iowa State. Frontline medical staff need these respirators to protect themselves when caring for patients who are suspected of carrying the virus that causes COVID-19. Such respirators are in dangerously short supply nationally, Diesslin said.

“There’s no amount of money that can buy N95 respirators right now,” he said. “They’re desperately needed.”

Once campus needs are addressed, Diesslin said he will work through the incident management team to contact Story County officials to let them know what supplies Iowa State has available, so the inventory can be made available beyond campus. 

“We’re connecting the dots between the medical community and the people on campus who have these supplies,” he said.

Veterinary hospital offers ventilator to help with response

Iowa State’s Hixson-Lied Small Animal Hospital has pledged the use of its ventilator to human hospitals if demand for the potentially life-saving devices reaches a crisis point as a result of COVID-19.

Hospitals in viral hotspots can experience such a rapid influx of patients that they don’t have enough ventilators to keep up with demand. So personnel at the animal hospital registered the ventilator with Story County Emergency Management and the Mary Greeley Medical Center in Ames. The arrangement will allow a hospital to take possession of the ventilator should that become necessary, said Dr. Rebecca Walton, an assistant clinical professor of veterinary clinical sciences. Until then, the ventilator will remain at the animal hospital, Walton said.

Ventilators are machines that keep patients breathing when they can’t breathe on their own. Walton and Dr. April Blong, assistant professor of veterinary clinical sciences, use the machine for cats and dogs, but Walton said the machine performs the same function for humans. Walton said doctors must choose appropriately-sized tubes to connect the machine to a patient, but the ISU ventilator is a model originally built for use in humans and will not require any further adjustments.

“When patients are unable to breathe on their own, a ventilator might be the only way to keep them alive,” Walton said. “Human hospitals in some areas are running out of them based on the massive number of patients that need them.” 

The small animal hospital also has inventoried its personal protective equipment to prepare for the possibility those supplies might need to be diverted to human medicine in the weeks ahead. Walton said other veterinary schools and hospitals have made similar arrangements around the country. 

“We’re still providing the best veterinary care we can, but we know human health needs are stressed right now,” Walton said. “We’re ready to support human hospitals any way we can.”