US Army Corps of Engineers Readies St. Luke’s Medical Center for COVID-19 Surge Capacity

By Paula L. Pedene, APR, Fellow PRSA

Veterans Voice Columnist, Arizona Republic

Due to COVID-19, Arizona was looking for ways to enhance hospital capacity if needed.  To do this, they turned to the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) to help.  They had their eyes on the potential of St. Luke’s Medical Center as an alternate care site for surge capacity if needed.  St. Luke’s was a functioning hospital until its closure in November 2019.

As part of a request from FEMA, the Los Angeles District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) did a site assessment at St. Luke’s to see what it might take to make the hospital ready for patients in 2020.

Coordination went through the Arizona Directorate of Emergency Management, which is one of the two agencies under the jurisdiction of Arizona Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Michael McGuire. In this case, FEMA coordinated with the Corps of Engineers to conduct inspections and repairs to the facility based on the Arizona Department of Health Service requirements.

The Arizona National Guard was ready to help. “The National Guard is always in support of an incident commander during domestic operations, and in this case, it is AZDHS. As long as the ask is legal, then we do what we can to support those commanders with their mission,” says Major Aaron Thacker.

“We are grateful to the Arizona National Guard and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and others for partnering with us to increase Arizona’s capacity to treat COVID-19 patients,” says Dr. Cara Christ, Director of the Arizona Department of Health Services. “It’s partnerships like these that are helping Arizona stay proactive.”

The initial turn for the project had a quick timeline.  According to Sgt. James David Palmer, USACE, “Our original schedule was 30 days … turnover by May 1.  The State had further requirements. Thus June 1 became the project completion date.

Contactor employees perform the actual work while USACE is working in coordination with other federal, state, local and tribal partners – to synchronize the interagency response to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

“We had onsite engineering, contracting, and construction, oversight staff. But, there were many Corps employees involved contracting, realty specialists, electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, architects, etc.,” said Palmer.

According to AZDHS the State has executed an operator contract to stand up St Luke’s as a step-down facility for COVID patients.  The trigger for activating St. Luke’s as an alternate care site will depend on a lack of surge capacity within existing hospitals and post-acute care settings.

The Arizona National Guard says they are proud to support the communities where the soldiers and airmen reside. “We have a vested interest to do what we can to defeat COVID-19, but we can’t do it alone. It will take a whole-of-community effort to flatten the curve and get past this Pandemic.”

Photo caption:  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District continues compliance inspections of contractor work on St. Luke’s Medical Center in Phoenix.

 Photo credit:  U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

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