Construction workers were busy at work Friday afternoon putting the finishing touches on the new mobile medical unit set to open soon on the Northeast Georgia Health Systems Gainesville campus.
IV stands, linen disposal carts, and various other boxed up medical equipment filled the main hallway of the unit comprised of 44 shipping containers in various shades of white, beige and light yellow as workers nailed in wall panels.
The unit designated for COVID-19 patients will remain near the center’s north tower for up to the next two years.
It is one of four in the state of Georgia funded by the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, and will serve as a place for NGHS Gainesville to house COVID-19 patients. Matthew Crumpton, emergency preparedness manager for NGHS, said that although the COVID-19 patient count at the facility has decreased from 138 a couple weeks ago to 40 as of Friday afternoon, the mobile unit is still an essential safety net.
“It’s never been a decision to not have it, because of the secondary wave that is still projected by the government,” Crumpton said. “We know that once we open up more elective surgeries and return to normal with our normal volume, we need a release valve for the COVID patients to have a place to keep part of our facility clean from COVID, and then have a place that we can segregate the COVID patients to keep the rest of the patients safe.”
The $2.4 million unit — which was paid for entirely by GEMA — will hold 20 COVID-19 patients. It will be filled with $1 million worth of medical equipment, also funded by GEMA.
Each room will have a bed and a TV, and two rooms will be equipped to perform dialysis on COVID-19 patients who need it. The rooms will all be negative pressure, meaning they will trap contaminated air inside and create 20 individual bubbles of air. The unit is scheduled to open on May 26, but Crumpton said challenges with the negative pressure systems could push the opening back as much as a week. Crumpton said it was essential that all rooms be negative pressure before opening the unit to ensure the safety of all employees and patients.
“A COVID test is a snapshot in time, so we don’t want to cross contaminate one patient who’s recovering, who may end up getting a negative screening test a few days later, with a person who had just been diagnosed,” Crumpton said. “That negative pressure allows us to segregate each of those individual patient rooms.”
Even if the mobile unit is operational on the 26th as planned, there may be a delay in transporting patients there depending on the volume of COVID-19 patients in the hospital at the time. That decision will be made on Tuesday morning, according to Crumpton.
The unit will be used to house COVID-19 patients at some point though — even if NGHS Gainesville does not hit its capacity — in an effort to keep COVID-19 patients segregated from other patients as much as possible.
It will be staffed primarily by faculty previously assigned to the fifth floor of NGHS Gainesville’s south tower, which has been converted to an intensive care wing, forcing staff there to be relocated.
NGHS Gainesville started receiving shipping containers for the project last Thursday, so construction is expected to take a total of 12 days start to finish. Crumpton said the unit will remain at the center for anywhere from 18 to 24 months, after which the center will begin production on a second north tower in the same location, which will become a new home to the NGHS Gainesville’s ER department.
But for the immediate future, the new mobile unit is here to stay.
“We’ll be able to utilize it for this next wave, if that happens, or throughout the surge of winter, which we typically have a surge of patients anyway from flu,” Crumpton said. “There will be flu and coronavirus patients that will continue throughout the year, so it will be good to have.”