Sioux City, Iowa --
When the call went out looking for Iowa National Guard members to volunteer in response to COVID-19, 185th Air Refueling Wing Lt. Colonel Debbie Jacobsmeier immediately responded “Yes”.
“They said they needed a medical planner or administrator,” Jacobsmeier said, “and can you come tomorrow?” Jacobsmeier’s comment highlights the short notice her hastily gathered team had when setting up their new Regional Medical Coordination Center in Sioux City, Iowa earlier this month.
During a typical training weekend Jacobsmeier works as the Medical Readiness Officer for the Iowa Air National Guard unit in Sioux City. After volunteering for state active duty, Jacobsmeier was assigned as the Officer in Charge of the recently configured RMCC site in the Sioux City based Air Guard unit’s dining facility.
Jacobsmeier is a traditional guard member who normally works full time at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City. Since volunteering for state active duty, Jacobsmeier has been working with members of the Air and Army National Guard, along with grant coordinators from area public health agencies at the region 3 site in Sioux City.
Most of the pieces fell into place quickly as representatives from the Iowa Department of Public Health traveled around the state to help coordinate site setup and expectations for each RMCC site.
“We were set up to be scalable so if we need to do 24 hour operations we can do that,” Jacobsmeier said.
By the first of April the RMCC site in Sioux City was configured and had a mission. The group’s main objective is to collect information from area hospitals and long term care facilities concerning their needs and capabilities. Other information that is collected includes data on staffing, and numbers of patients who have contracted COVID-19. After the collection of information, the data from Sioux City and five other RMCC sites around the state is sent to Des Moines where it is made available to the department of public health at the state capital.
Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds directed the creation of the regional RMCC sites and explained her desire to make data driven decisions in the state’s response to COVID-19. Much of the data used by the Governor is being collected by Jacobsmeier and the other RMCC teams from around the state.
According to Diane Williams from the Iowa Department of Public Health, giving the decision makers accurate data from a local level is the primary goal in setting up the RMCC sites.
“We were looking for the ability to establish ground truth, and by establishing these regions we have stronger relationships at the local level,” said Williams.
Jacobsmeier explained that an integral piece of the operation is having civilian grant coordinators in the same room as part of the RMCC. She said that these are the people who have established relationships with area care facilities so they know where to get fast, accurate information.
Exactly a year ago, Jacobsmeier was working in Puerto Rico as part of a large medical exercise where they were providing no cost medical care to underserved people on the island territory. She said the circumstances were very similar to the work she is doing in Sioux City today. During the Innovative Readiness Training exercise in Puerto Rico, Jacobsmeier noted that they had medical teams spread over a large geographical area, they were working in the communities, and they were working closely with civilian agencies. Jacobsmeier said she was responsible for documenting training for the 500 person medical team.
“It was excellent training for this,” said Jacobsmeier. “There was a lot of building formulas and creating spread sheets getting numbers out,” she added, explaining how recent training and experiences as part of the IRT helped prepare her for the work she is doing now.
Because there is no such thing as a typical experience it is rare to achieve the trifecta of having the right person in the right place at the right time. When Jacobsmeier volunteered for state active duty, she didn’t know how the culmination of her training and experiences might ultimately help determine how soon the lives of her fellow Iowans can get back to normal.