UVM Gym Becomes Hospital Surge Site for Coronavirus Patients

If the University of Vermont Medical Center maxes out its capacity during an anticipated surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations, the less-acute cases may be treated at Patrick Gym

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Vermont Gov. Phil Scott has written the White House to request a federal disaster declaration that would help him recoup some of the small state’s costs of preparing for the coronavirus crisis.

Vermont said it has already spent well over $20 million in response costs.

“The COVID-19 disaster is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the state and the affected local governments,” the Republican governor wrote in a letter to President Donald Trump. “Federal assistance is absolutely necessary to ensure the health and safety of all individuals in Vermont.”

The University of Vermont’s Patrick Gymnasium, the scene of so many celebrations from the Hoopcats and their fans, has suddenly taken on a somber tone as a designated surge facility.

“This, clearly, is something that we hope we don’t have to use, but we certainly are prepared to if and when that time comes,” the university's Vice President of Hospital Services Dawn LeBaron said.

In a week and a half, the gym was transformed into a 50-bed alternate care site by the University of Vermont Medical Center, in partnership with Vermont Emergency Management and the Vermont National Guard. The facility could be reconfigured to double its capacity, officials said.

If the hospital reaches maximum capacity, COVID-19 patients or suspected cases sick enough to need professional care but who aren’t the most severe can receive oxygen and other treatment.

“You’re here for 24 to 48 hours and then at that 48-hour mark, we make the decision about whether you have to go back to the hospital or whether you can be discharged to home,” said Jennifer Robare, UVMMC’s patient safety coordinator.

Vermont's stay-at-home order is in effect amid the coronavirus outbreak, and businesses that remain open are making big changes.

The surge site has a special area to contain airborne infection risks if a patient takes a turn for the worse and needs to be transported.

Indoor tennis courts are now a designated sanitizing space where deliveries and equipment will be managed, and there’s a secure medication dispensing area that’ll be staffed by a pharmacist.

“Our goal was to create the safest space possible for our patients when they’re outside the hospital,” noted Daniel Hudson, UVMMC’s nursing operations manager.

The men’s locker room, infused with Hoopcats’ spirit, will give doctors, nurses and others working 12-hour shifts a space to shower and decompress after being in a high-stress environment, Hudson noted.

Physicians are still pleading with Vermonters to take social distancing very seriously to help slow the spread of disease.

Dr. Erik Anderson, an anesthesiologist at UVMMC, pledged the highest-quality care possible if the converted gym is pressed into use to treat people infected by the new coronavirus.

“This space is going to work to increase the flexibility and allow us to employ some strategy in how do we handle a large number of patients coming to the hospital in a short time,” Anderson told NECN.

Patrick Gym is just one of several sites set up around the state to prepare for an expected influx of COVID-19 patients. Scott recently pointed out those surge sites will only be used if the traditional hospital buildings exceed their capacities.

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