Renown turns a floor in their parking structure into a hospital amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Reno Gazette Journal
In just 10 days, Renown Regional Medical Center has increased its ability to cope with the spread of COVID-19 by about 173 percent.
They’ve done this by retrofitting the regional trauma center’s Mill Street parking structure into a three-story temporary facility designed to hold 1,400 coronavirus patients at peak capacity.
Construction of the temporary facility was “herculean,” according to Renown CEO Tony Slonim, a roughly $11 million precautionary effort that will help our region’s healthcare system cope with an expected influx of coronavirus cases.
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Just one of the temporary facility’s two 700-bed floors nearly matches Renown’s normal 808-bed capacity.
The facility is spartan, but clean.
Rows of dozens of neatly-bedded cots crosshatch the structure’s expansive interior underneath a ceiling lined with the buildout’s exposed HVAC and electrical guts. There are no privacy partitions between the beds, and ventilated Sani-huts serve as backups for a handful of plumbed toilets on each floor.
A partitioned staff area splits each patient floor into two sides. That staff area is full of computer monitors and other medical equipment, ready to be used.
Despite its differences from a normal hospital setting, the facility is clean, orderly and appears well-equipped. The entire structure is also negatively pressured, a safety measure taken so potentially contagious particulates aren’t blown into the outside world through an open door.
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According to Slonim, the temporary structure is an extraordinary measure taken for an extraordinary time.
“In the context of a pandemic … the usual standard operating procedures go out the window,” Slonim said during a Tuesday tour of the facility. “We’ve got to manage this crisis — who would’ve thought we would stand up a hospital in a garage?”
Health officials are expecting the new coronavirus and the disease it causes to create a surge in hospitalizations, which could be potentially devastating for already overtaxed hospitals and their staffs.
It’s unclear when that surge will come or how dramatic it could be. Some models, of which there are several, anticipate the peak number of hospitalizations in Northern Nevada to happen around the first week of May, Slonim said.
But those models are fluid and ever changing. As the region dives deeper into social distancing and the closure of nonessential business — part of a worldwide effort to “flatten the curve” — the anticipated surge becomes more manageable and its peak moves further into the future.
As the curve flattens, the chances for a hospital-overwhelming patient surge lessens, but conversely the duration of the pandemic gets longer. Time is being traded for lives, Slonim explained; fewer people will die because hospitals will have the capacity and available resources to care for them.
Jen Richards, chief nursing officer for acute care services, said the sizable facility presented a staffing challenge. Each 700-bed floor has been broken down into 100-bed sections. Each section will have about 40 to 48 health care professionals assigned to it.
The project has been in the works for several weeks, but was constructed by a 500-person crew working around the clock for 10 days straight.
The first and second floor are for patients, with 700 beds on each floor. The third floor is where the vehicle-sized HVAC units are housed along with a break area for staff.
The first floor is furnished, outfitted and ready for patients. The second floor, according to Steve Horne, Renown’s VP of construction and facilities, is nearly finished and could be fully completed in three days if needed.
It’s one of two temporary facilities being stood up in the Reno area. The second is being built by the Army Corps of Engineers at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center.
That facility will have 700 beds and, according to Slonim, will likely be used for patients who are recovering. Renown will also be helping staff care at thsite, Richards added.
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Renown’s existing 808-bed hospital remains the first line of defense. Patients — both those with COVID-19 and those without — will continue to be admitted there until it’s at capacity.
Once that building is full, overflow patients will begin occupying beds in the alternate care facility. If that were to happen, the most critical patients, such as those who need ventilators, will remain inside the main hospital structure.
Despite his not-for-profit hospital’s multi-million dollar investment in anticipation of that surge, Slonim hopes the facility never opens its doors.
“Best news is that we never have to open it,” he said during a tour of the facility on Tuesday. “This would all be a planning exercise and we close it up and go back to work, that would be amazing.”
Sam Gross is a breaking news reporter for the Reno Gazette Journal who covers wildfires, emergencies and more. Support his work by subscribing to RGJ.com.
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