Other cities scramble to erect field hospitals, but Indy remains mum

In Baltimore, the Maryland National Guard has set up a field hospital at the city convention center, with X-ray machines, pharmacy support and lab testing, to handle an expected surge of COVID-19 patients.

In Chicago, the Army Corps of Engineers is converting the massive McCormick Place convention center into Illinois’ first field hospital to handle 3,000 patients.

In New York City, the Army has built a 1,000-bed temporary hospital inside the Javits Convention Center, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he would ask the White House for permission to turn Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, CUNY Staten Island and the New York Expo Center in the Bronx into additional field hospitals.

So what’s going on in Indianapolis?

If there’s any large-scale preparation coming, similar to what’s happening in some cities, officials here have kept quiet about it. That’s even as the state health department said Friday it is expecting the influx of COVID-19 patients here to surge in the next two to four weeks, and U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams has called Indianapolis an emerging “hot spot.”

City and state officials here have yet to announce any plans to convert large facilities here into field hospitals. Officials with the Capital Improvement Board—which owns the Indiana Convention Center, Lucas Oil Stadium, Bankers Life Fieldhouse and Victory Field—did not respond to questions Monday.

Jennifer Sullivan, secretary of Indiana’s Family and Social Service Administration, said Monday afternoon that field hospitals were part of the state’s overall planning. She said the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Guard would be prepared to open a field hospital with as little as 72 hours notice. She did not disclose a location.

The Indiana Hospital Association says it has not heard of any such plans. “Our hospitals remain focused on expanding capacity–I have not heard anything about plans such as the cities you mention have undertaken,” said Dixie Platt, spokeswoman for the hospital association, in an email to IBJ.

Meanwhile, IUPUI said Monday it is cleaning and sanitizing University Tower, a resident hall across the street from Indiana University Health’s University Hospital on the central part of the campus.

The facility will provide housing for health care workers, Amber Denny, an IUPUI spokeswoman, said in an email to IBJ.

The rooms are intended to be used by IU Health workers to provide a place of rest in between shifts.

University Tower has 278 residential rooms, however not all will be available for use, Denny said.  The tower has 600-plus beds, various campus offices, dining and restaurant space.

Students who were residing in the tower have since been moved to another residence hall.

Several hospital systems in central Indiana have said they are scrambling to convert patient floors into segregated areas for COVID-19 patients, and have built separate entrances at their emergency departments for people with flu-like symptoms and other respiratory ailments.

They have all postponed non-urgent, elective surgery to keep facility and staff free to handle the growing influx of patients. As of Sunday evening, 1,786 Hoosiers have tested positive for COVID-19, including 804 positive cases in Marion County. The death toll in the state has risen to 35.

Meanwhile officials in several large cities and states have said they didn’t want to waste time erecting temporary field hospitals.

“We’re not waiting for the worst. We’re preparing ourselves for the worst,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Saturday at his daily briefing, regarding work at McCormick Place, according to the Chicago Tribune. The Chicago Department of Public Health said 500 beds are expected to be ready there this week.

In New York City, the additional beds in the Javits Convention Center will house patients with health-care needs unrelated to COVID-19, thus freeing up hospital beds elsewhere for infected patients, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The all-glass building, with 1,000 patient beds spread out over 700,000 square feet, will add to the state’s tally of 53,000, but make up only a small portion of the 140,000 total beds Cuomo has projected New York may need during the outbreak’s looming peak three weeks away, according to news reports there.

In Baltimore, the city convention center is part of the state’s effort to vastly expand available hospital bed space to accommodate people suffering from COVID-19, according to the Baltimore Sun. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has set a goal of adding 6,000 hospital beds statewide in response to the pandemic.

“We don’t have time to wait,” Hogan said last week on MSNBC.

Bob Atlas, president and CEO of the Maryland Hospital Association, said the situation does keep changing, and the hospitals and the governor’s administration remain in constant contact.

“It was an early estimate based on the worst-case scenario,” Atlas told the Baltimore Sun. “The surge need is smaller, though I can’t offer a number. It’s a fluid situation.”

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