TUCSON, Ariz. - As COVID cases threaten to fill up our hospitals the State of Arizona has to have a place to put patients if that happens.
That has the state on the hunt for locations to use as a back up---and Tucson’s Convention Center is one of the places the state has examined.
The Tucson Convention Center has almost 30 thousand square feet of space. The arena seats almost nine thousand but bed space will be what matters if the State of Arizona decides to use TCC for hospital overflow.
The City of Tucson did put beds at TCC fifteen years ago when it became a shelter for evacuees from Hurricane Katrina but beds for medical care are a bigger challenge.
Doctor Richard Carmona says, “So we have to start planning to say, Well, what happens if a lot of sick people need these facilities, what do we do?”
When he was U.S. Surgeon General, Doctor Carmona did disaster planning on a national and international scale.
Rather than convert a wide open arena, he prefers the idea of reviving a former hospital like Tucson Heart Hospital that already has medical infrastructure like oxygen systems, hospital grade sanitation and areas to contain people who may be contagious.
“And I'm confident that our teams here in the county and the city are looking at those options to be able to pick the easiest facility, and the most cost effective to be able to provide expanded care when and if necessary.”
A more basic facility could free up advanced hospital space by taking less serious COVID patients or patients with other illnesses.
If there is an overflow facility, the biggest question may be where to find the health care workers to staff it.
Doctor Carmona says, “But it may be if we're resource-poor in personnel, We’re struggling for a facility, the decision could be, let's say we partner with the military and stand up a military hospital here that can be brought in very quickly. On the other hand, maybe you just need staffing augmentation, you might look to your Disaster Medical Assistant team Medical Reserve Corps.”
Doctor Carmona says a key is to project demand so if more space is needed, there’s enough advanced warning to prepare it.