Army Corps make assessments on alternative health care sites
Facilities would be for non-COVID-19 cases if need arises
KAHULUI — A team of engineers, emergency services providers and others were on the ground at a few Maui hotels Friday to make assessments on possibly using the properties as alternative health care facilities for non-COVID-19 patients if the need arises.
“This is really to free up the bed capacity in the hospitals,” said Jeffrey Herzog, alternate care facilities program manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
He said team members were working with general managers of the hotels while assessing the locations to potentially serve non-COVID patients who don’t need acute intensive care.
Shortly after landing by military aircraft at Kahului Airport, team members gathered at the Courtyard by Marriott Maui Kahului Airport for the first assessment, which was expected to take a couple of hours.
Plans called for doing assessments at two or three other sites — another one close to the airport and two others farther away, including in Lahaina — said Lt. Col. Kathryn Sanborn, Honolulu District commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Herzog said closeness to the hospital and other services was a factor, as was building age and type of construction.
Engineers were reviewing electrical, mechanical and ventilation systems to see if they were suitable to turn hotel rooms into hospital rooms containing medical equipment, Herzog said. He said other considerations included space for ancillary services to provide laundry, medical disposal, a kitchen and nursing station “to take a floor of a hotel and turn it into what you would see if you went into a hospital ward.”
“It’s a little bit simplified because it takes a long time to build a hospital,” Sanborn said. “It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s something that will help and advance the availability of health care facilities should there be a greater number of patients than what the current hospitals and clinics can support.”
Sanborn said a location with mold wouldn’t be a good candidate for an alternative health care facility.
“We don’t want to pursue something that would take a lot of renovation,” she said.
After a quick look around the 138-room Courtyard by Marriott, which opened in June 2012, Herzog said, “It looks like it’s fairly new, as far as construction and renovation.”
“On the outside, it has a great potential to serve as an alternative care facility,” he said. “This site has a lot of positives from the exterior.”
Dr. Alvin Bronstein, chief of the Emergency Medical Services & Injury Prevention System Branch of the state Department of Health, said he talked to managers of the properties, which were identified as potential sites by the Emergency Operating Center.
He declined to name the locations but said they were “public venues and hotels.”
The Lahaina Civic Center might be a candidate to consider, Bronstein said.
Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino said Friday that the Army Corps was scouting two county facilities, the War Memorial Gym and the Velma McWayne Santos Community Center, both in Wailuku, as possible sites. He could not disclose the private sites but did say many were in Central Maui.
Bronstein said factors being reviewed included power and water supply, and the availability of sprinkler, fire and smoke alarms.
Team members also were determining how much retrofitting might be needed for the locations to serve as health care facilities, he said.
“We’re just doing reconnaissance,” Bronstein said. “Several of the hotels were gracious enough to allow us to come see them.”
The Army Corps is doing the assessments and engineering, working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and state in the initial planning, Sanborn said. She said others would decide whether to move forward and at what locations.
“Whatever happens, it will be a decision between the county and state,” Bronstein said.
If plans move forward, property owners would have to agree and be compensated by the state, he said.
Sanborn said the Army Corps would seek local contractors to do work. “The plan is to work as quickly and aggressively as possible,” she said.
“I think everyone feels it’s much better for us to have a plan and know as much information as we can,” she said. “We’re all partners to collaborate to do what we can to save lives and not endanger more lives.”
Bronstein said the six hours allotted Friday might not be enough time to visit all the locations, and team members may have to return to Maui to complete the assessments.
He stressed that no decisions had been made about opening alternative health care facilities on Maui.
“These are the worst-case scenario,” he said. “Hopefully, it won’t come to this.
“We’re just reviewing options. No decisions have been made on what patients might go where. There’s a lot of work yet to be done.
“I pray it doesn’t come to this, that everybody stays in, and we don’t have a lot of spread — we flatten the curve, as they say.”
* Staff Writer Melissa Tanji contributed to this report. Lila Fujimoto can be reached at email@example.com.