On Thursday morning, Gov. Steve Bullock visited a temporary alternate care facility (ACF) under construction in Kalispell that will serve the region in the event of a pandemic escalation later this year, as officials prepare for the possibility of a spike in COVID-19 infections in the fall.
Accompanying Bullock was Maj. Gen. Matthew Quinn, the Adjutant General for Montana and leader of the state’s COVID-19 Task Force, which selected Kalispell as one of two locations to house an ACF. The Kalispell site is being built in the vacant third floor of Kalispell Regional Healthcare’s Montana Children’s medical center.
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, is overseeing construction, which is isolated to the top floor of Montana Children’s and does not impact current patients and staff. The state’s other ACF is a mobile unit at MetraPark in Billings, built by the Montana National Guard.
During his visit, Bullock lauded the rapid work of crews, which include local tradesmen and subcontractors.
“Money that will stay in our community,” the governor said, sporting a hard hat, goggles and orange construction vest. “It’s just a great example of both a partnership with Corps of Engineers and FEMA, the state, local contractors and the hospital. It’s something hopefully we can marvel at and never use, but we know that if something comes up we’re ready for it.”
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 Kalispell facility 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.
“As Montana begins the process of reopening, we remain vulnerable to a potential spike in cases,” Quinn said. “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.”
Montana Children’s signed the lease on May 4, followed by the USACE issuing the $2.64 million contract to CDM Smith, which is serving as the engineering and design lead. CDM Smith hired Martel Construction as the lead contractor, and Martel hired all the subcontractors.
“After the award is given, the contractor has 21 days to mobilize to the area, and to complete the entire build out of the alternate care facility,” said Ryan Field, Kalispell ACF project manager for USACE-Omaha. “That in and of itself is unique.”
Construction began on May 11, and within four days, the USACE said the 26,250-square-foot empty shell transformed into a “recognizable framework of patient care spaces that could be used in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.”
More than 50 people worked 12-hour days to lay framework, hang sheetrock and install the electrical and plumbing utilities. When construction is finished this weekend, the facility will have 98 patient care rooms, seven nurses’ stations, four restrooms, three pharmacies and a medical supply storage room.
FEMA funds 75% of construction costs, while the state funds 25%. The state is responsible for the supplies and equipment outside of the FEMA-funded construction.
“The Omaha District is 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 for 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.”
When the pandemic ends and it’s determined the facility isn’t needed, the state of Montana will remove the patient pods and equipment and store them at a state facility for other future ACF needs.
Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, Commanding General of the USACE, said if the facility never gets used, “it’s a relatively small cost to have the capability to keep people alive.”
“I can’t think of a more noble calling for an engineer,” Semonite said.