Work begins on creating 'alternative care facility' at State Fair Park

Posted at 6:34 PM, Apr 09, 2020

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it's just a few days away from starting construction on a field hospital at Wisconsin State Fair Park in West Allis. It will care for COVID-19 patients.

The Army Corps of Engineers was on site Wednesday and Thursday to plan and design how they're going to turn the Exposition Center into a temporary hospital. Based on similar projects they've already completed across the country, it could be ready in less than two weeks.

Through the windows of the Expo Center, workers in masks could be seen Thursday assessing the building that will be transformed into an alternative healthcare facility with more than 700 beds.

"They're laying out right now the grids, in terms of how we will construct the individual patient spaces," said Col. Aaron Reisinger.

Reisinger says each patient space will consist of three 8-foot tall walls, with a curtain entrance. They will be about 10 feet long by 10 feet wide.

"This is like an insurance policy," he said. "We spend every day preparing to do things we hope we never have to."

If area hospitals exceed capacity, the field hospital will be used for coronavirus patients who don't need ventilators or intensive care.

"I think we know first and foremost that the patient density here is probably going to be elderly individuals," Reisinger said.

A White House official tells TMJ4 News that the Exposition Center at State Fair Park has the capacity for 1,100 beds. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett puts that number more around 700.

Between Saturday and Monday, the Army Corps of Engineers will start setting up 10' by 10' cubicles for patients, but Reisinger said the operation is far more complicated than that. It will need back-up power, a change in airflow, and accommodations for healthcare workers.

"They have to come into a COVID-19 environment, they have to be cleaned to come out of a COVID-19 environment," Reisinger explained. "They have to have showers that aren't there now."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will contribute $24 million to the project. Some funding will also come from the state of Wisconsin.

The "alternative care facility" is not meant to treat anyone in critical condition. It's more geared for COVID-19 patients in stable health who need more time to recover.

"The patient density here is probably going to be elderly individuals," Col. Reisinger said. "We're looking at how to best distribute the services necessary for each of the individual patients and their individual needs. For example, we have to decide between bottled oxygen, or installing in-line oxygen, which would consist of creating tank farms outside the building."

Several subcontractors have already been hired to help. Johnson Controls will oversee all things technology.

"Such as nurse call systems, Wi-Fi, converged network, adjusting the HVAC systems that go into the facilities," explained Nick Treder with Johnson Controls. "You're taking what would normally take a year and a half to 2-year construction project, and you're compressing it into a 10 to 20-day project."

Other companies helping with the work are Gilbane Building Company, HGA Architects and Engineers, Staff Electric, J.F. Ahern, and Hetzel Sanfillipo.

Workers have to essentially build a makeshift hospital, with a back-up power system and fool-proof network for doctors to track patients, in a short amount of time.

"Healthcare workers, have to be able to come in and out of the COVID-19 environment safely and be cleaned," Col. Reisinger said. "We have to install showers. That goes for patients too. We have to have an effective system to process them in and out of the facility."

Organizers, though, are not yet revealing where the health care workers for this facility will come from.

Based on similar facilities constructed in other states, it could take one or two weeks before the facility is ready for use.

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