Preparing for a Pandemic

As the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic hit the United States, people everywhere were preparing for the worst. Individuals stocked up on groceries and toilet paper. Businesses prepared for remote working. And governments throughout the country planned for shutdowns and new policies. Hospitals analyzed forecasts and models to understand if their infrastructure could support an influx of patients. Our client, UPMC/Pinnacle Health System, comprised of 7 Central Pennsylvania area hospitals which provides healthcare to approximately 1.2 million people, wanted to be prepared. As of March 24th, the system’s total ICU census was at 40% with a total of 2 individuals identified as positive with the COVID-19 virus. They weren’t sure if the region would reach the projected totals being reported, but they wanted to be prepared if their assumptions were wrong.

UPMC established a Design/Build team with Quandel Construction Company and Spiezle to design a full 100-bed, acute-level field hospital. The project would need to be designed within two weeks – the target time frame for a “go/no-go” resolution. Design needed to start immediately, to provide as much information as possible to begin construction. A complete project budget was required to be developed by March 27 so it could be presented at an emergency board meeting on March 30. All funding would need to be earmarked, and available materials sourced, so that the project could be constructed, if necessary.

For two weeks, this team worked tirelessly to design the hospital. Two different locations were investigated, but lease negotiations fell apart. A pressurized tent structure was explored, so that the hospital might be built in a parking lot, but flood plain, access and budget concerns meant that wasn’t an option. Finally, an unoccupied high-bay warehouse in town, listed for lease, was considered. The owner of the building, Morgan Transportation, offered the facility rent free.

The final hospital program measured 30,000 SF. It included a large anteroom for ambulance access and patient intake. Incorporating newly adapted protocols, the design also included a large space for the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) dressing, separate egress paths space for washing, PPE removal, male and female shower areas, and a room with UV lighting to reduce infectious agents. The 100-bed count was developed as a two-phase construction project and allowed for 60 critical ICU patients, 30 step-down patients and 10 transitional patients (ones that could be released to an accepting facility or be discharged home for final recovery).

The program was finalized. Construction documents were prepared. Procurement was arranged and funding was allocated. The location was settled. At that juncture, it was just a matter of understanding the coronavirus’ impact on the UPMC hospital system. Fortunately, the total number of patients never rose beyond the critical need, and the hospital ultimately cancelled the project.

As we continue to live with the COVID-19 pandemic, we would like to thank our essential front-line workers, our nurses and doctors. We would also like to thank UPMC/Pinnacle Health System, Quandel Construction, and Morgan Transportation, who worked proactively and diligently to ensure the safety of our community. Thank you for your preparation.

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