Milwaukee leaders plan 'alternative care facility' for COVID-19 patients at State Fair grounds

Posted at 8:13 PM, Apr 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-02 23:28:01-04

WEST ALLIS — Milwaukee city and county officials are calling on the state to ask the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build an alternative healthcare facility on the Wisconsin State Fair Park grounds in the coming days.

Local leaders call the Wisconsin State Fair Park in West Allis an optimal location for a temporary hospital because it's easy to access off I-94 and has plenty of parking.

As Milwaukee County coronavirus cases climb above 900 on Thursday, city and county leaders say they're planning for the worst. They're requesting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers turn an existing building at the state fairgrounds into an alternative healthcare facility with the hopes it won't have to be used.

Leaders say they are hopeful they'll have enough hospital beds, ICU beds, and ventilators if there's a surge in cases. But, according to Barrett, the new facility would provide further assistance "in the event that we need it."

"This is an attempt to prepare in the event that we need this," said Mayor Barrett. "The goal is to be prepared."

"We're entering a state of the unknown," said Chris Durkin.

Durkin lives right across the street from the fairgrounds.

"I can't say I'm necessarily a fan of it living across the street, but at the same time, as long as I'm quarantining myself, I think. Hopefully, I can reduce my risk," he said.

West Allis Mayor Dan Devine said nearby residents do not need to worry.

"We're going to do everything we can to have a minimal impact on surrounding neighborhoods," Devine said.

"We want to avoid a situation where we decide we need this facility too late when we already have patients in need," said Dr. Ben Weston, Director of Medical Services for Milwaukee County.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said if area hospitals exceed capacity, coronavirus patients who do not need ventilators would be sent to the fairgrounds. Each patient would get their own room and a bed.

"If we didn't move at this speed, we may not have enough time," Barrett said.

"We at State Fair Park are ready to serve if needed," said John Dingling, Chairman of the State Fair Park Board. "We have the facilities, we are ready, and we're looking to make sure that we are operational as quickly as possible to provide services we hope are never needed."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has already done similar projects in Detroit and Chicago.

It remains unclear when construction would begin at the fairgrounds, how many beds would be available, and where healthcare workers would come from, but Barrett expects work to start by the middle of April.

"The next step is to request the actual facility to be built," Barrett said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been in the Milwaukee area scouting possible sites for this temporary hospital. They toured the Wisconsin Center in downtown Milwaukee earlier this week, but Mayor Barrett's office said that location had not been selected at this time.

City leaders say funding for construction will come from the federal and state government. Local firms will be contracted to assist the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in building the site.

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