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What happens if hospitals reach capacity? There’s a plan.

May 11, 2020

A work group tours a potential alternate care site

One of the fears during the COVID-19 crisis has been that if too many people get sick at one time, hospitals won’t have enough room to treat them. Fortunately, the State Healthcare Coordination Center (SHCC) work group has been occupied with solving that very problem before it happens. The work group has identified potential alternate care sites (ACS) and is now in the process of creating a plan to use them, if needed.

The SHCC works within the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) and is made up of staff from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DPS-HSEM), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Minnesota National Guard and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). The group traveled the state to assess potential ACS facilities in eight Minnesota regions that would add more than 5,700 beds for non-critical medical care. Any ACS facility had to meet specific criteria ranging from contract considerations and leases to width of corridors and adequate power supply.

The hope is that these ACS facilities will never have to be used. Regional hospitals will start by occupying more than 16,000 beds – including general beds, additional non-critical care beds, critical care (ICU) beds and variable critical care (ICU) beds. This is known as meeting and exceeding “surge capacity.” Only then will an ACS be activated. The MDH is tracking hospital surge capacities and posting the data online to the COVID-19 Response and Preparation Capacity Dashboard.

Critical and intensive care patients would stay in the hospitals, and the ACS facilities would provide low-level medical care or monitoring only – think general medical care, perhaps with oxygen and IV fluids.

Although it is not needed now (and my never be), the SHCC is using Presbyterian Homes-Langton Place in Roseville as a test site to determine what types of retrofits are needed to transform it into an ACS. The work group will use it as practice for their procedures to open up an ACS location, so if others are needed, they can open quickly and efficiently to relieve hospitals.

Right now, regional hospitals in Minnesota haven’t reached surge capacity – and they may never do so. But if they do, the SHCC is making sure that there will be enough beds throughout the state to care for those who need it.