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Ohio Guard helps state evaluate alternate care sites

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. David Show, an HVAC craftsman with the Ohio National Guard's 200th RED HORSE (Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers) Squadron and currently assigned to the Northwest Joint Engineer Assessment Team, surveys the boiler room at Upper Sandusky High School April 4, 2020, in Upper Sandusky, Ohio. Guard members conducted a site survey at the high school to determine whether it is suitable for potential use as an alternate medical facility, if COVID-19 cases increase beyond what existing hospitals in the state can manage.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. David Show, an HVAC craftsman with the Ohio National Guard's 200th RED HORSE (Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers) Squadron and currently assigned to the Northwest Joint Engineer Assessment Team, surveys the boiler room at Upper Sandusky High School April 4, 2020, in Upper Sandusky, Ohio. Guard members conducted a site survey at the high school to determine whether it is suitable for potential use as an alternate medical facility, if COVID-19 cases increase beyond what existing hospitals in the state can manage.

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Lucas Budd, an engineer adviser assigned to the Northwest Joint Engineer Assessment Team, takes notes during a site survey April 4, 2020, at Upper Sandusky High School. Ohio National Guard members were assessing whether the school is suitable for use as an alternate medical facility, if COVID-19 cases increase beyond what existing hospitals in the state can manage.

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Lucas Budd, an engineer adviser assigned to the Northwest Joint Engineer Assessment Team, takes notes during a site survey April 4, 2020, at Upper Sandusky High School. Ohio National Guard members were assessing whether the school is suitable for use as an alternate medical facility, if COVID-19 cases increase beyond what existing hospitals in the state can manage.

UPPER SANDUSKY, Ohio – Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine turned to the Ohio National Guard to help develop a plan to expand medical capacity as Ohio’s health care systems brace for the looming COVID-19 peak.

The Ohio National Guard’s response? A regional approach supporting state agencies aimed at one goal: identifying alternate care sites that are not traditionally considered medical facilities. Soldiers and Airmen who specialize in engineering and construction are supporting this effort by using their military and civilian expertise to find solutions for Ohio.

Based on the five geographical Ohio Emergency Management Agency-designated regions in the state, Joint Engineer Assessment Teams, or JEATs – a collaboration of the Ohio Department of Health, Ohio EMA, Ohio National Guard and regional officials – evaluated unused state facilities, convention centers, commercial properties and academic buildings.

One of the JEATs visited Upper Sandusky High School April 4 to evaluate the school as a potential alternate medical care facility to treat overflow patients from hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic, should the anticipated need become a reality.

“We don’t know how many patients we’re going to see come down with COVID-19 in the next few weeks,” said Valerie Schalk, vice president of operations and chief nursing officer for Wyandot Memorial Hospital in Upper Sandusky. “We have to be prepared for the worst-case scenario.”

Each regional JEAT evaluation is part of a proactive, whole-of-government approach to expanding medical capacity, so hospitals are prepared for a surge in patients and their critical medical staff can continue to provide life-saving care.

“This is an Ohio mission and everyone involved brings a specific skill set and a different way of looking at things to the team,” said Army Maj. Brett Green, the team leader for Northwest Ohio. “One of our Air Force guys is an electrical engineer and on the Army side I have a civil engineer. We’re bringing the talent pool together to help the people of Ohio.”

Army Capt. Tim Cope, an engineer adviser for the Northwest Ohio JEAT, agreed. “Every member of this team was selected because they have unique skills and expertise they bring to this mission,” he said. “We’re leveraging their civilian expertise, and that’s something you don’t get from active-duty components.”

Cope said factors his team evaluates include how many beds a facility can support, electrical capacity for nursing stations and medical equipment, availability of outdoor space for medical screenings, full-service kitchens to prepare meals for staff and patients, showers and restrooms and internet capabilities.

The school is one of seven sites considered for the Northwest Ohio region. Because schools are temporarily closed and provide access to many of these resources, they are potentially ideal for alternate care facilities. Schalk said the school’s proximity to the hospital and major highways was also a plus.

“Based on the Ohio Department of Health’s predictions, we should be able to handle at least three times our capacity at the hospital, but if it goes past that, this would be a secondary site for us to treat patients,” said Ty Shaull, chief executive officer for Wyandot Memorial Hospital.

Shaull said the site would most likely be used for patients who do not have COVID-19, to relieve pressure on the hospital and free up resources for patients in need of critical care, but it could also be used for patients whose symptoms are not severe or for patients in recovery.

The governor announced April 6 the selection of six initial alternate care sites: SeaGate Convention Centre, Lucas County; Case Western University’s Health Education Campus, Cuyahoga County; Dayton Convention Center, Montgomery County; Covelli Centre, Mahoning County; Duke Energy Convention Center, Hamilton County; and Greater Columbus Convention Center, Franklin County.

The plan is to have the first sites operational by mid-April.

“It’s a tough mission against an unseen enemy, but we’re ready,” Green said. “Ultimately, we really hope that we never have to use these sites.”

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