COVID- 19 Watch: Meeting Immediate Demand for Medical Care Facilities

Transitioning existing spaces may be viable option

by Beth Scarano

The COVID-19 outbreak has Arizona watching and learning from cities and countries around the world. As the pandemic unfolds, the state must prepare for a potential surge in cases that can put overwhelming demand on local hospitals and medical staff.

While Arizona’s numbers remain relatively low compared to densely populated cities across the U.S., the state is projected to be just weeks away from the peak of the coronavirus pandemic. The impact on local medical institutions and staff is yet to be seen. To prepare for an unprecedented influx of patients, the medical community is working with state and local governments to establish additional locations to meet the increased need for COVID testing and medical care.

The most pressing question is how the industry can quickly identify and transition space to meet a potential surge of critically ill patients. The answer lies in taking stock of what is needed to quickly, efficiently and effectively establish new facilities.

Project Planning for Pop-Up Shops
Putting together a strategic project plan is the first step for any commercial buildout, but it is especially imperative when time is of the essence. Clarifying the decision makers and seeking input from stakeholders is also vital. Based on April 13 statistics released from the Arizona Department of Health, Arizona is at approximately 50 percent capacity on hospital beds. With COVID cases rising at approximately 100 a day, the medical industry seeks to double the capacity of hospital beds by May, if not sooner. In addition to doubling available beds, temporary testing facilities also are needed.

Requirement Checklist
Identifying potential spaces and creating a checklist of the requirements needed to quickly transform it will save both time and money. When retrofitting a space, access to power is a main consideration. Temporary facilities will need power to handle diagnostic and data processing equipment for the gathering and storing of medical records. Establishing utilities and wireless access is almost more important that the structure itself.

Next to consider are the types of services to be offered. Will the space be used for patient intake and testing or for those needing critical care? The answer dictates the needed square footage, equipment and layout for the space to become fully operational.

Retrofit and Repurpose
A typical buildout of a medical office or healthcare facility can take months, but retrofitting or repurposing existing spaces can be done in as little as a couple of weeks. Converting shuttered hospitals and primary care facilities could be quickly accomplished. For example, St. Luke’s Hospital in Phoenix will be temporarily reopened to provide beds for COVID patients requiring intensive care. Vacant single-story buildings also can offer a quick-turn option, as can conference centers and empty hotels. New York City retrofitted the Javits Center as a 1,000-bed field hospital.

Unused parking lots and open land offers space for tents or other temporary buildings that can serve as clinics or drive-through testing locations.

Facing Challenges, Finding Solutions
As Arizona braces itself for the peak of the COVID pandemic, there are, fortunately, a variety of options available throughout Maricopa County and the state that can accommodate temporary medical facilities. However, with many of civic employees working remotely, the biggest challenge may be quickly securing necessary permits and approvals. Ready access to needed materials also may be a challenge. But, with a good project plan, construction and retrofitting can be completed within weeks, providing vital medical testing and treatment facilities in this unprecedented time of need.

Beth Scarano is principal and CEO of Launch PM, specializing in commercial construction project management. The company’s portfolio of projects includes multiple healthcare clinics and medical offices, corporate offices, hospitality, education and municipal facilities.

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