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Alabama exploring empty hotels to bolster hospital bed capacity

The patient blue bed with bed sheet in the hospital.

Gov. Kay Ivey said on a conference with lawmakers and state officials Monday that the state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are considering using hotels, especially in Alabama’s large metro areas, to expand hospital bed capacity.

The discussions come as public health experts warn that hospitals could face a surge in patients as the coronavirus pandemic spreads in Alabama and hospitals begin reporting more hospitalizations.

“The governor continues to explore all options to combat COVID-19,” the governor’s press secretary, Gina Maiola, said when APR asked about the plans. “A decision has not been finalized, but her priority remains focused on the health, safety and well-being of all Alabamians.”

On the conference call Monday, Ivey told lawmakers that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is visiting the city’s major metro areas to study facilities that could be used to provide extra hospital bed capacity if a surge in patients materializes, according to several lawmakers and elected officials who were on the call.

Ivey said on the call that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is looking at ways it can contract with empty hotels to expand hospital bed capacity quickly to avoid an overwhelming of the state’s medical facilities with COVID-19 patients.

The Corps of Engineers is surveying potential sites in Tuscaloosa County, Lee County, Birmingham, Mobile, Montgomery and Huntsville. The discussions seem to mirror a nationwide plan being discussed by leaders of the Army Corps of Engineers.

It’s not clear when any of these popup hospitals could be functional in Alabama. More information or some kind of report on the possibility of using the hotels is expected by the end of the week, lawmakers who listened to the call said. But that would only be the first step of the process.

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Some experts have also recommended using closed rural hospitals across the state to increase bed capacity. “While there is not a specific plan to do so at this time, the governor is not ruling out any option,” Maiola said of re-opening rural hospitals. “The health of Alabamians is of the utmost importance.”

States across the country are looking at hotels — largely empty during the economic shutdown — as potential venues to bolster bed capacity. Washington purchased motels to add bed capacity early on its outbreak. The Army Corps of Engineers, according to McClatchy, explored using hotels in New York City.

The Corps then played a large role in New York, setting up a number of temporary hospitals at convention centers, colleges and other sites in the city, which is now the epicenter of a national outbreak.

The commanding general of the Army Corps of Engineers, Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, told Fox News that residents of other parts of the country can expect to see pop-up field hospitals like those appearing in New York City.

The hotels, officials said, would be the easiest to convert into extra hospital bed capacity because there are already individual bathrooms for each room and often air conditioning and heat for each individual room.

Chip Brownlee
Written By

Chip Brownlee is a former political reporter, online content manager and webmaster at the Alabama Political Reporter. He is now a reporter at The Trace, a non-profit newsroom covering guns in America.

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