Broadlawns Medical Center was bleeding red ink when Janet Metcalf was asked to join the public hospital’s board in 2004. Soon afterward, the board hired an enthusiastic young CEO named Jody Jenner, who began to turn things around.

Over the next several years, Broadlawns succeeded in reducing per-patient treatment costs by 40 percent, recalled Metcalf, who in January became the board’s chairwoman. “That’s just so significant it blows your mind,” she said. “It’s my favorite statistic.” 

Efficiency and quality have become new themes at Broadlawns during Metcalf’s watch, so much so that last year, an accreditation inspector called it the best public hospital he had ever seen. The hospital was also named one of the “most wired” hospitals in the country for its implementation of electronic medical records. 

“I think it shows what determination and pushing the envelope can accomplish, while still maintaining our obligation to our patients,” Metcalf said. “It’s been exciting to be a part of the Broadlawns board.” 

Before she ran for the Iowa Legislature, the Des Moines native owned a bridal shop at Park Fair Mall, which her father had built. She ran the bridal shop while her husband managed the mall. 

“It was a fascinating business to get into,” she said. One of her favorite stories was the time a farm family came in and the young bride-to-be picked out a dress that cost more money than they had planned to spend. Finally the father said, “OK, I’ll just sell another cow and you can have the dress,” Metcalf recalled with a laugh.  

While she was still working at the bridal shop, Metcalf got involved with Planned Parenthood of Iowa and became the organization’s president. A few years after that, in 1983, a seat in the Statehouse opened up in her district, and she was asked to run. “I said, ‘Oh, I can’t do that.’ And the response was, ‘Yes, you can; we can help.’ ” 

“I think that is a mantra that many women who are doing wonderful things around the community have heard,” she said. In addition to Planned Parenthood, she became involved as a volunteer guide with the Des Moines Art Center and also became active with her children’s school on the PTA. “I think there’s a culture or legacy of getting involved by women in this community, and I’ve benefited from that,” she said. 

When she began her first legislative term, Metcalf was one of just 17 female legislators, a group so small that they met for lunch each Thursday. 

“My (legislative) interests grew out of my experiences as a small business owner,” she said. “How can we make it easier for employees to have a good job, for employers to have good employees? I was also interested in energy regulation. Windmills were just getting to be a big thing in Iowa, and there were dilemmas around that.” 

Every other year while she was a legislator, Metcalf would go “door knocking” in her district every day from the end of the session in May through November. Those face-to-face meetings with constituents weren’t always easy, but they proved valuable for learning what the public’s real needs were, she said. And because she was gone so much, “my husband actually learned how to cook dinner by himself,” she said. 

Three areas of influence

Chairwoman of the Broadlawns Medical Center board of directors in her second six-year term, and a member of the Broadlawns Foundation board.

A Republican, she served nine terms in the Iowa House of Representatives, representing Urbandale, Clive, Grimes and Windsor Heights from 1984 until her retirement in 2002.

She served as president of Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa, and most recently on the board of 50-50 in 2020, an organization seeking political equity for Iowa women by recruiting, training and mentoring women to run for elected positions.