by CHRIS ROGERS
Winona State University (WSU) dorms could act as field hospitals if COVID-19 overwhelms real hospitals, but they probably won’t have to, state and local officials reported this month.
Earlier this spring, officials from Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management (HSEM) toured various sites around the state, including WSU’s Kirkland-Haake Hall, to identify potential alternative care sites — locations that could be converted into makeshift hospitals if normal hospitals overflow with patients.
“Imagine a hotel where we would convert the sleeping rooms into hospital rooms, or imagine the basketball court at your high school being partitioned into care units,” HSEM Director Joe Kelly said in March.
The idea was that these field hospitals could take stable patients with run-of-the-mill medical conditions from across Southeast Minnesota while real hospitals handled COVID-19 patients and other patients in critical condition. HSEM officials toured three sites in Southeast Minnesota with plans to select one or two for possible use.
Now state officials have identified four sites in Southeast Minnesota that could be used: WSU’s dorms, the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester, The Minnesota Academy of the Blind in Faribault, Minn., and The Minnesota Academy of the Deaf, also in Faribault. However, HSEM leaders do not expect to need any of those sites, and are not taking any further steps at this time to prepare the facilities for use. Kirkland-Haake Hall would need carpet to be removed, among other retrofits.
“Things are looking good to the point that we probably won’t need those, but also we’re prepared if we do,” Winona County Emergency Management Director Ben Klinger said.
Minnesota’s State Emergency Operations Center is activating one alternative care site: Presbyterian Homes-Langton Place in Roseville, Minn. HSEM Public Information Officer Amber Schindeldecker described it as a proof of concept that emergency managers could learn from if other alternative care sites need to be activated. The Roseville field hospital is being prepared for action, but it is not taking patients right now either. “Based on current conditions and projections, there is no immediate need for this site. The facility will not be used unless absolutely necessary,” Schindeldecker explained.