UnityPoint doctors detail frustration, exhaustion of treating COVID-19 as Iowa runs out of ICU beds


DES MOINES, Iowa — The coronavirus delta variant has become a challenge for Iowa’s health care workers, as patients are quickly filling up the state’s intensive care units.

“I am frustrated in the feeling of being so helpless in helping people I can normally help,” said Dr. Lance VanGundy, who works in the emergency department at UnityPoint’s Marshalltown hospital.

VanGundy decided to share his firsthand account of the worsening COVID-19 situation in a video which has been shared thousands of times on Facebook.

“We are drowning in people who are dying with this illness,” VanGundy said in the Facebook Live video, which was posted Thursday morning. “In over 20 years of doing this, I’ve never been this busy, this stressed, or seen this many sick people.”

Dr. Brooke Johnson, who works at UnityPoint’s Methodist emergency department in Des Moines, said the delta variant is heavily impacting all of the system’s hospitals.

She said UnityPoint is essentially out of beds in its intensive care units due to the surge in cases, which is backing up emergency rooms also dealing with heart attacks, strokes, and broken bones.

“Truly, we have no rooms at the inn,” Johnson said. “We want to take care of you, but if you have to wait multiple hours in the emergency room, there’s a reason for it.”

Both Johnson and VanGundy are frustrated because they say the COVID-19 vaccine could have prevented a situation as widespread as what they are seeing.

“It’s sort of like saying you’re going to jump out of a plane 10,000 times without a parachute and hope you make it,” VanGundy said. “Instead, you can just put on the parachute.”

“It’s really going to take the public taking a stand and deciding, ‘Let’s get this done with,'” said Johnson.

Even though most UnityPoint employees are now required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, both Johnson and VanGundy fear they will have to deal with this spike in cases for a few more months.

“You see all these people coming to you for help, and the best you can do is tread water,” said VanGundy.

“All of this combined is hard, and it’s draining,” Johnson said.

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