As COVID-19 cases in Washtenaw County rise, local health systems are creating field hospitals and other temporary overflow spaces so they don't run out of space for patients.
At St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor, staff are planning to turn the hospital system's under-utilized Towsley Building into an overflow quarantine space. And one of the building's tenants – the nonprofit House N2 Home, which normally helps formerly homeless people in Washtenaw County furnish their permanent housing – will be providing furnishings for patients' rooms.
The Towsley Building once housed mental health services but was vacated a few years ago. House N2 Home and two other nonprofits, Catherine's House and Dress for Success, work out of the main floor of the same building, but the second and third floor have remained vacant.
David Raymond, director of planning for Trinity Health, says staff have been trying to decide how best to use the Towsley Building for some time. With the main hospital building near capacity, using the mostly-vacant building for quarantine overflow seemed timely.
"We've been looking at all the opportunities we have in all our facilities to get ready for the surge of patients we're going to have," Raymond says.
Staff are considering using the Towsley Building for patients or staff who have COVID-19, or perhaps both. Patients who are still contagious but not sick enough to need intensive medical attention could be given beds in the Towsley Building. Additionally, some medical staff who have tested positive and don't want to bring the infection home could be housed there.
The top two floors have capacity to host 28 single-patient rooms each, and Raymond says some rooms could be set up to accommodate two beds, for when two related patients both have the virus and want to stay together.
Raymond and his wife Ginger are also volunteers with House N2 Home. Though the organization is not currently helping furnish any apartments at this time due to the shelter at home and social distancing protocols, St. Joseph Mercy is tapping the charity's resources to help get the Towsley Building ready for the surge.
Ginger Raymond says that about two months ago, nuns from a Catholic retreat center in Oxford, Mich. contacted House N2 Home offering beds and other furnishings from the center, which is closing due to low usage.
Through that deal, House N2 Home acquired 60 beds plus several dressers, chairs, mattresses, and bedding. Those items, plus 40 TV sets and other furnishings previously acquired by the nonprofit, will be used to furnish rooms at the Towsley Building.
"We've been putting out announcements to the group about what we're doing, and House N2 Home is really active. We're not shut down because we're able to do these things behind the scenes," Ginger Raymond says.
She adds that House N2 Home is also building infrastructure so it can expand and help more people in the long term.
"It's going to be a long journey for everyone, but I'm excited to see the way the community has come together," David Raymond says. "I'm glad to see that people, in a lot of ways, are not panicking but acting responsibly and being in earnest about how they can help and make a difference in the lives of others."
The Towsley space is not the only local overflow facility being created to handle a surge of COVID-19 patients. The University of Michigan (U-M)'s Michigan Medicine is also on schedule to open a field hospital at an indoor track in the South Athletics Facility on State Street in Ann Arbor to house overflow COVID-19 patients this week. U-M officials also recently discussed repurposing dorms to house patients who aren't ready to return home yet.
For more Concentrate coverage of our community's response to the COVID-19 crisis, click here.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo courtesy of David and Ginger Raymond.