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More than $1 billion spent on makeshift field hospitals to handle pandemic

Posted at 5:19 PM, Apr 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-15 17:19:40-04

CHICAGO, Ill. – As states fight to flatten the curve, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is working with the Army Corps of Engineers to build out massive makeshift hospitals.

At a cost of more than $1 billion, the pop-up-care facilities aim to increase the number of available beds as the death toll climbs.

It took just days to convert Chicago’s McCormick Place, the nation’s largest convention center into the nation’s largest field hospital.

“We look at what the demand signal may be in these locations, what the bed capacity is going to be, what the potential ICU capacity is going to be,” said FEMA Regional Administrator James Joseph.

This alternative care facility will be ready to accept more than 2,200 coronavirus patients this week and eventually hold up to 3,000 patient beds.

The National Guard helped bring in about 500 negative pressure tents from Oregon.

To date, FEMA has funded some 32 missions in 25 states and one tribal nation. They’ve contracted the Army Corps of Engineers to design and build out these alternative care sites at a cost of $1.6 billion.

“This is an unprecedented situation for the entire nation, for the world for that matter,” said Joseph.

These are preparations and responses for a surge of patients that, in a worst-case scenario, could overwhelm hospitals and emergency rooms.

It’s something Regional Director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Doug O’Brien says is constantly being reassessed.

“We need to have a place for subacute patients,” said O’Brien. “Patients who are less ill to be able to receive treatment while the hospitals turn more of their beds into ICU beds.”

While most of these facilities will help with non-COVID-19 overflow, McCormick Place is being prepped to handle coronavirus patients with mild symptoms exclusively.

“We're talking with the hospitals. The state emergency management public health departments are talking to the hospitals daily to assess their capacity, their senses and their potential needs,” said O’Brien.

It’s a national plan that officials like Joseph say is federally supported, state managed and locally executed. It’s also something on a scale never seen before.

“This is the whole of America response and together we as a nation,” said Joseph. “In my honest opinion, as a nation we are the strongest. And that's how we’ll get through this trying situation.”