JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON – Brig. Gen. Thomas Tickner, commanding general of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) – Pacific Ocean Division, toured the Alaska Airlines Center on the University of Alaska Anchorage campus on Tuesday. A portion of the arena was converted into an alternate care site capable of treating coronavirus patients.
Last week, the Corps’ Alaska District, which falls under the Pacific Ocean Division, transformed the auxiliary gym of the arena into a temporary care facility that can accommodate 51 people should the medical demand exist. The design included a pipe and drape configuration for each patient pod; nursing and hand washing stations; and a conversion system to maintain a negative air pressure environment. In all, the project cost $1.26 million and was completed in one week with health officials receiving the facility on April 17.
“I commend our contractors, State of Alaska, Municipality of Anchorage, and the health community for this whole-of-government response to lower risk in the battle against COVID-19,” Tickner said. “Our hope is that the curve will flatten through social distancing measures, and that the temporary care facilities will not be needed. But if they are needed, Alaska's health community will now have alternate care facilities that enable critical care delivery. Even beyond COVID-19, these sites can increase disaster response capabilities for the state in other disasters, such as earthquakes.”
If the Anchorage-area hospitals reach capacity, then the alternate care site will be used to treat patients not infected with coronavirus. However, if coronavirus-positive patients become too many for the hospitals, then the new alternate care site is equipped to handle them, said Ella Goss, CEO of Providence Alaska Medical Center and overseeing the alternate care site.
“I am incredibly proud to be an Alaskan right now,” Goss said. “I think we have come together in a way no other state has to make sure we are caring for our people. We can’t do that without each other and without incredible partnerships and trust.”
Denise Smith, Continuum of Care director for the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and chief nursing officer for the alternate care site, echoed those sentiments stating that the health community has a responsibility and obligation to be prepared for anything.
“The alternate care site would not exist without the partnerships,” Smith said. “So many organizations made it possible and when we collaborate we can move mountains.”
On March 27, the district received its first mission assignment from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and conducted a facility assessment of the arena to determine its viability as an alternate care site. In Alaska, the Corps formed two assessment teams – one each in Anchorage and Fairbanks – as well as a design team. The assessment teams evaluate sites selected by the state of Alaska. Meanwhile, the design team applies the USACE standard design templates for expedient construction at the selected locations.
On April 7, the district received the FEMA mission to move forward with the conversion. Two days later, the contract was awarded to Neeser Paug-Vik Joint Venture, LLC of Anchorage and work began the same day. In the event that more patient space is required, the gymnastics practice area and main performance gym can be converted as well to increase capacity to 163 beds amongst the three areas. The main performance gym would require a little more engineering and configuration, however.
“Each patient pod would need to be its own self-contained isolation unit with dedicated exhaust and utilities,” said Matt Johnson, Alaska District’s COVID-19 alternate care site program manager. “It would be a little more difficult, but we can do it.”
Across the country, USACE has awarded 32 contracts for the construction of alternate care sites in 16 states, one territory and Washington, D.C; completed 1,125 site assessments; and executed 48 mission assignments worth $1.7 billion. More than 15,000 Corps personnel are engaged across the enterprise to provide support both on site and virtually.
Information pertaining to specifications and implementation of the alternate care facilities is available at https://www.usace.army.mil/Coronavirus/Alternate-Care-Sites/.
During emergencies, USACE is the federal government’s lead public works and engineering support agency, and given its extensive work building medical facilities for its military stakeholders is uniquely qualified to meet this engineering challenge.
For photos and captions of Brig. Gen. Thomas Tickner’s visit, please visit: https://www.dvidshub.net/image/6185616/bg-thomas-tickner-visits-usace-alaska-districts-alternate-care-facility.
For photos and captions of USACE activities related to COVID-19 response in Alaska, please visit: https://www.dvidshub.net/portfolio/1656997/rachel-napolitan.