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Health Systems convert college sports facilities into COVID-19 field hospitals

Estimated read time: 4 minutes

by Cerner Corporation

Published on 5/5/2020

Faced with the possibility of overtaxed hospitals without enough beds for COVID-19 patients, many health systems around the world built field hospitals to handle a potential surge. Two health systems in particular, Rutland Regional Medical Center (RRMC) in Rutland, Vermont, and Lowell General Hospital in Lowell, Massachusetts, established field hospitals in several weeks. The systems worked with staff, community partners, the Cerner ITWorksSM team and volunteers to quickly equip college sports facilities for patient care.

“I think our teams felt good about being able to provide a safe space to handle a worst-case scenario,” said Laura Pierce, senior director of information services at Rutland Regional Medical Center (RRMC). “It was unifying to give the community peace of mind that if things did get worse, we had a safe place to take care of them.”

“It was kind of crazy to think about standing it up. It’s effectively the same number of beds as our main facility, but all within the size of an ice rink,” said Pierce. “It still had all of the hockey equipment in it. Before setup, as we walked through, we thought, ‘We’ve got some work to do.’”

While not in use yet, crews set up the hospital for non-COVID-19 patients and prepared to take in low-acuity patients from other hospitals who might be transferred to their site. Vermont’s Emergency Operations team helped provide guidance and set up parameters on the types of patients RRMC could treat at the field hospital.

Farther south, the University of Massachusetts Lowell (UML) hosts another field hospital, this one set up by Lowell General Hospital. A recreation center made way for about 90 beds, to house COVID-19 patients who appeared on their way to recovery and not in need of the most critical care. While this field hospital also hasn’t seen patients, it’s ready to be used at any moment.

“It’s amazing what the teams have done,” said Angel Santana, senior support manager, Cerner. “I was a medic during Desert Storm, and this took me back to those days. It’s amazing to see this place put together. It’s just a big open space of three basketball courts, and people came in and set it up with 90 cots.”

Both field hospitals received network and technology support from their respective ITWorks teams. In both locations, teams collaborated to help keep the network infrastructure strong and functioning the same way as if the clinicians were practicing at a regular hospital, without worrying about additional hurdles like using virtual private networks.

At RRMC, preparing the field hospital didn’t all fall on the shoulders of hospital staff, as volunteers turned out to offer assistance.

“We had firefighters there on the weekend setting up new flooring,” Pierce said. “We had audio professionals hang privacy curtains and wire the beds and nursing sections for power. They rigged the wiring on the ceiling to eliminate tripping hazards. Seeing these community partners show up and offer what they could in the middle of a pandemic—it was nice having that comradery.”

While RRMC and Lowell General Hospital clinicians wait for patients at the field hospitals, leaders at both hope that in the end, they don’t need to use the facilities, but know they’re ready to respond if needed.

“A week ago, none of this existed, and now it looks like it’s been there for months and took months to construct,” Nicholas Leclair, emergency management coordinator, Lowell General Hospital. “It’s amazing the amount of work that was done in such a short period of time.”

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