The Montana COVID-19 Task Force has selected Kalispell Regional Healthcare as one of two locations in the state to construct an alternate care facility (ACF) that would serve the region in the event of a pandemic escalation later this year.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), under a mission assignment from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in support of the state of Montana, will build out the ACF in the vacant third floor shelled space of the Montana Children’s medical center.
After the USACE completes its site survey this week, construction of the basic structure is expected to begin in mid to late May and will last two to three weeks. Construction will be isolated to the top floor of Montana Children’s and will not impact current patients and staff.
“I’m proud of the continual work everyone at KRH has done to protect our patients, our community and each other during this pandemic,” KRH President and CEO Craig Lambrecht said in a statement. “I’m honored that the State selected our facility as an ACF location. This will be one more emergency preparedness tool we have should our patient volumes increase this fall due to COVID-19.”
While social distancing has had a “significant impact on the incidence of COVID-19 in Montana and hospital capacity has been adequate thus far,” KRH said in a press release that the makeshift hospital sites will help prepare for a potential second wave of infections later in the year, “which could stress Montana’s hospitals even more if it coincides directly with the start of flu season.”
“As Montana begins the process of reopening, we remain vulnerable to a potential spike in cases,” said Maj. Gen. Matthew Quinn, the Adjutant General for Montana and leader of the state task force. “The extra capability this facility will provide to hospitals throughout the region is critical to ensuring the continued safety of our population. We must make sure that we take every step now to prepare for a potential second wave later in the year.”
An ACF is a facility that is temporarily converted for health care use during a public-health emergency. The FEMA-led COVID-19 Pandemic Response team mobilized the USACE to build ACFs across the country to reduce “unnecessary burden on hospitals and other healthcare facilities, help infected patients maintain isolation, and allow low acuity patients to be monitored and treated.”
The structure would be used for non-COVID-19 patients to create more capacity for treating patients infected with COVID-19 in the hospital system’s acute care settings, and will include modular patient pods and nursing stations to support 100 beds.
“The Omaha District will be leveraging our extensive construction capability and expertise to build the additional bed space capacity in support of the request by the State of Montana and FEMA,” said Col. John Hudson, commander of the USACE-Omaha District. “Ultimately, we hope these additional bed spaces will not be needed. But, if they are, the spaces will be ready and available to support the greater Kalispell community.”
FEMA funds the ACF without any cost to the hosting facility. The state of Montana is responsible for the supplies and equipment outside of the FEMA-funded construction. FEMA funds the 75% federal cost share for the project, while the state funds 25%.
“Funding this work supports the State’s efforts to be prepared if Western Montana sees an increase in COVID-19 patients, putting a strain on hospital space,” said FEMA Region 8 Administrator Lee dePalo.
When the pandemic ends, the state of Montana will remove the patient pods and equipment and store them at a state facility for other future ACF needs.
“If you have hospital beds that never get used … it’s a relatively small cost to have the capability to keep people alive,” said Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, Commanding General of the USACE. “I can’t think of a more noble calling for an engineer.”