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Army Corps to scout hotels for ‘alternate care’ sites on Maui

Facilities to serve as backup should hospitals overflow

Kathryn Sanborn

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is looking into three hotels on Maui that could serve as backup health care facilities should local hospitals be overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.

A team is scheduled to conduct an assessment on Maui today “at sites chosen by the state.”

“Should the request come from the state through FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) to convert these facilities, we’ll be ready to go,” Lt. Col. Kathryn Sanborn, Honolulu District commander, said Thursday during a news conference. “The design concept for these sites are flexible and adaptable, and if implemented, we’re confident that they would help to expand medical capabilities in the state successfully.”

On Monday, the Army Corps surveyed the 204,000-square-foot Kamehameha Room in the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu, followed by an assessment of the 65,000-square-foot Neal S. Blaisdell Center exhibition hall, also in Honolulu, on Wednesday. The volunteer team of 10 Army Corps employees is looking for places that could be quickly converted into makeshift hospitals for either COVID-19 or nonacute patients.

Sanborn did not specify which hotels on Maui the Army Corps is considering, but said the state is working with the counties and FEMA to provide a list of sites.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green speaks during a news conference Thursday. Green said hospitals could surge capacity if needed and that there are many licensed, nonpracticing physicians who could be called upon to help. State of Hawaii photo

The way the sites would operate would depend on the type of patients they serve.

“If it is for nonacute care or non-COVID patients, then it’s pretty simple,” Sanborn said. “We make sure it’s sanitary and has all the necessary functions of a health care site, and then if it is a site for COVID patients, what we have the design to do is to look to create a negative-pressure situation in the room, and then the rest of the equipment and staffing are provided by our partners.”

When asked where staff for the site would come from, Sanborn said it’s the Army Corps’ job to provide the facility support, “and we will collaborate with our partners for what is being called wraparound services, including FEMA and Health and Human Services.”

In terms of costs and timeline, Sanborn also said that in order to move from assessment to actual construction, the Army Corps would need to get the directive from FEMA and then the state. How long it will take depends on the site and how officials plan to use it, whether for nonacute or COVID-19 patients, and the costs will also depend on the use and size of the site.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green added that there are thousands of nonpracticing, licensed physicians that the state could call on if needed to help the current workforce.

“Truth is we have a lot of people that have been on the bench for a very long time in our health care community, and we’re reaching out to them now,” Green said. “We have 4,000 doctors in practice statewide, and we have 9,000 physicians that are actually licensed in the state. We’ve done some things just in the past day to make it more accessible to get those care providers.”

Green said the state is also looking to the schools “that are pumping out providers, new medical students.” The military can also provide staffing as well, though Green said that could take away from civilian hospitals.

“We do believe we’ll have the capacity to surge . . . if we have a very big problem, but we’ll reach out nationwide if there are any other places that aren’t offering care right now,” Green said.

However, he acknowledged that many of those nonpracticing physicians are likely over the age of 65, an age group particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. Green said that there are many different capacities in which they could help, including through telehealth.

The lieutenant governor also provided a breakdown of equipment and beds statewide. As of Thursday, there were 18,000 N95 masks, 3,800 face shields, 20,000 pairs of gloves and 22,000 surgical masks. He said a new order of supplies is coming Monday.

Hawaii also has 3,031 licensed hospital beds with an average daily census of about 1,970 — meaning that 65 to 67 percent of beds are filled on a daily basis. Green said hospitals could surge capacity by about 15 percent, or another 500 beds, meaning there are about 1,500 beds available if people get sick.

Statewide, there are also 328 ICU beds, 204 negative-pressure isolation room beds and 431 to 560 ventilators, depending on what’s in supply and activated. As of Wednesday, 78 of the 431 activated ventilators were in use.

Most of the ventilators are on Oahu, with smaller numbers on each of the Neighbor Islands. Maui Memorial Medical Center, the island’s only acute-care facility, has 24 ventilators. Green said that officials could surge capacity by changing out the surgical rooms where elective surgeries — now canceled in light of the pandemic — were previously done.

He also said that ventilators and other equipment could be sent from Oahu to Neighbor Islands if needed. The Healthcare Association of Hawaii keeps track of equipment at each hospital and whether they are seeing an increase in COVID-19 patients.

“We know every single morning where our most great needs are,” Green said. “So yes, if we had to get ventilators to protect one part of our ohana we could get them there. We’d also try to bring in extra ventilators as we order them.”

On Thursday, 11 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Hawaii, taking the statewide total to 106. Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Anderson said that of the new cases, eight were on Oahu, one was on Maui and two were passengers from the Grand Princess cruise ship that visited Hawaii before being stopped off the coast of California.

Oahu now has 77 cases, Maui has 14, and Kauai and Hawaii island each have five. The location of three cases is pending, and two are Hawaii residents diagnosed out of state.

Anderson said that three of the cases had no history of travel exposure, indicating that “there is some localized community transmission occurring.” He said the department was still investigating and didn’t know where exactly the localized transmission could be happening.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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