The state of Vermont, the Vermont National Guard and the University of Vermont Medical Center have been collaborating to set up “surge sites” to handle any potential patient overloads from the coronavirus pandemic. One of the surge facilities is at the Patrick Gymnasium on the UVM campus. Officials provided a tour of the operation Tuesday morning in advance of any patient transfers.
“Everybody just follow me.”
The Patrick Gym is normally where the UVM Catamount basketball teams plays to sellout crowds. But now the parquet floor is covered with a tarp, the bleachers have been pushed back and 50 hospital cots line the floor. Medical Director of the Patrick Gym Unit Dr. Erik Anderson explains that at center court are the staff and computers responsible for patient health. “As you can see we’ve got a lot of IT and communications infrastructure in the gym. This is really important. That makes us just like any other unit in the hospital in terms of how we can view our patients and make all the care decisions that we need. All of our machines and equipment operate just the same as they would in an in-patient unit.”
Anderson explains that this surge site will treat COVID-19 related diseases. “Our unit here is really focused on being another wing of the hospital. So patients will go through the emergency department or the urgent care and then they will be transferred here if we feel it’s appropriate for them to be here and if their care needs match what we can do.”
Patient Safety Coordinator and Patrick Gym Unit Co-Director Jennifer Robare says their goal is for a maximum patient stay at the gym to be only 24 to 48 hours. “Looking at the type of patients that we’re getting. The goal is for them to come, for us to provide the care that they need. Some people may be able to go home after receiving a little bit of medical attention. Those that can’t go home will be transferred back to the hospital depending upon how their process is with the COVID virus.”
Anderson and Robare lead us down a back hall to the tennis courts, which serve as the supply and receiving center and where another 100 cots are available if needed.
Robare: “As people are coming off of their shift or taking a break they will be going down this hallway to remove their PPE.”
Anderson: “This is our clean supply staging area. So our supply chain has been incredible at getting us everything that we need to have a supply stock on site.”
This surge site includes a negative-pressure critical care tent. Dr. Anderson, an anesthesiologist, explains why it’s important during intubation procedures. “The negative pressure doesn’t do anything to the patient. The negative pressure helps us turn over the volume of air in this room at a faster rate than in the gym and so any aerosolized virus from the patients where we do put the breathing tube in their trachea and their lungs is more quickly turned over and filtered and leaves the room allowing us to clean it safely and prepare it for any other patient that needed to be in here.”
There are no patients currently at the facility and Robare says they do not know when, or if, anyone will need to be moved there. “We’re hoping that we don’t have to open the gym. As we are watching the COVID landscape change, it changes every day. You know it could be next week. It could be two weeks from now.”
Dr. Anderson: “Stay home and stay safe. Follow the CDC guidelines. Social distancing works. And if everybody can do their part then we can devote our attention to the people that need it the most.”
The University of Vermont Medical Center plans to transfer patients to the surge facility when the main hospital is close to, but not over, capacity.