By Rudy Koski
There’s nothing on the outside of the Austin Convention Center to indicate that the building is being converted into an overflow hospital, but supplies and equipment are in the process of being set up, according to Sarah Eckhardt who’s helping coordinate the effort.
“We are really hoping to never have to use it but what we have seen is if you think you are over-preparing for COVID-19, you may be preparing just enough," said Eckhardt, who is involved as the special assistant to Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe.
The Austin Convention Center has been used before to care for large groups of people, but that has typically involved hurricane evacuees. Converting it into an overflow alternative site hospital would look more like the images taken earlier this spring at event facilities in Dallas and Houston.
“We wanted to start pulling up that facility in advance of needing that facility. We don’t want to put it up hastily and in a panic,” said Eckhardt.
The convention center was selected because the need could be big. “We are planning for 1500 we hope that we will never need to deploy that plan,” said Eckhardt.
Hospitals will still be used for critical care patients. Before the convention center is activated, local hospitals will first expand into rooms not currently in use due to staffing levels. Tent-like facilities are the second step in the capacity protocol.
The head of St. David’s said in March it will be similar to what was done during the swine flu outbreak a decade ago.“All of our hospitals have tents available and those could be deployed in a matter of hours,” said CEO David Huffstuler.
The alternative site plan is not limited to just finding a big space and bringing in beds. A lot of people will be needed to work it.
“We have already entered into a contract with a company to supply nurses on contract and we’ve also put in what’s known as a star request to the state for their assistance as well to staff the alternative care facility,” said Eckhardt.
A call got volunteers was issued to help build a staff, but only for individuals with nursing and medical backgrounds. “It won’t be your regular volunteer circumstance where it’s take-all-comers and let’s get after it,” said Eckhardt.
It’s estimated if trends do not reverse, the convention center could go online by mid-July.