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Council Approves Alternate Care Facility At Pasadena Convention Center for Possible COVID Surge

Published on Tuesday, April 7, 2020 | 5:00 am
An unidentified man exits Pasadena Convention Center’s Ballroom building on Monday, April 6, 2020. Photo by James Carbone

The Pasadena Convention Center will be converted into a MASH-like alternate care facility that will be ready to treat COVID-19 patients if the spread of the coronavirus winds up overwhelming the existing number of beds available at Huntington Hospital.

That became official on Monday, when the City Council unanimously approved a pair of contracts that will get the makeshift facility set up as soon as next Wednesday.

The council allocated a maximum of $700,000, which would fund the emergency facility for three months.

While those additional beds – cots, actually – are not needed yet, the temporary facility would add 250 beds to Huntington’s capacity initially. That number could expand to as many as 400 in total, should the need grow as a result of a COVID-19 surge in Pasadena and surrounding communities served by Huntington.

At the moment, Huntington’s main facility still is able to handle the existing number of patients being treated for COVID-19, according to Dr. Lori Morgan, president of Huntington Hospital.

According to a city staff report, the hospital could expand its capacity to about 600 beds – but “projections provided by Huntington Memorial Hospital indicate that at (the outbreak’s) peak, currently estimated for mid-May, there could be as many as 1,300 persons requiring hospitalization at its facility for treatment of COVID-19.’’

“Such a peak would exceed that capacity by approximately 400 beds,’’ the report said.

According to Morgan, the convention-center facility – if it is needed – would not be used for patients needing ICU-level care or ventilator care. Rather, it would be used for patients showing milder symptoms – and for patients not expected to survive, who would receive “comfort care.”

“The intent I would say is to have very low-acuity patients or patients that are going to have comfort care, who would not be having aggressive management – those are the two types of patients that we would send there,’’ Morgan told the council.

“We would not be sending folks that needed to be ventilated or need ICU-level care. … This is really care for people who need just minimal care, who don’t have people at home to help them or, again … what we would call expectant management, which is being able to comfortably take care of people who aren’t anticipated to survive.’’

The alternate care set-up will come from a contract allocating up to $700,000 that the council approved with Redrock Entertainment Services, a firm that sets ups concerts, festivals and other events, and that could act swiftly to get the emergency facility set up, according to City Manager Steve Mermell.

Acting Fire Chief Bryan Frieders provided the estimate of next Wednesday as the day the new facility could be completed.

Mermell said he believes the city would be able to get reimbursed from FEMA and the California Office of Emergency Services for at least some of the $700,000 outlay — though that is not yet a certainty.

The council – meeting remotely in deference to coronavirus stay-at-home orders — simultaneously approved a second contract as well, a zero-dollar services agreement with Huntington to provide medical care at the emergency facility.

Mermell said that city planning staff and officials from Huntington Hospital looked at “a variety of facilities in the city” before determining that the convention center would provide the best location for the temporary care facility.

“The owners of (the abandoned) St Luke’s hospital were good enough to let us in to look around (but) that facility is in very poor shape, so it’s not a viable option,’’ Mermell said. “Also, our partners at the school district allowed us to look at a couple of different school sites (but) they’re a little too small.

“And so the Pasadena Convention Center really is a great location,’’ Mermell added. “It has 97,000 square feet of flexible space, large exhibit halls, restrooms, a loading dock – it’s really everything you would want in a remote facility.’’

Redrock, he added, “has a lot of experience setting up festivals and large concerts and other venues, so they know how to do this logistically.’’

Redrock was selected after consultation with various city agencies, including the Fire Department, which also handles emergency medical calls. Frieders, the acting fire chief, told the council that he had been in touch with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about the corps possibly setting up such a facility in Pasadena, but that there were concerns about whether the federal agency could get the job done quickly enough, with a possible COVID surge on the horizon.

Under the city’s emergency declaration, the Redrock contract was awarded without competitive bidding, to expedite the process, Mermell said.

According to the city staff report, city officials “made contact with several vendors capable of outfitting the center to serve as a temporary medical facility. Multiple proposals were obtained, and Redrock Entertainment Services was determined to be the most cost-effective.’’

Mermell also said the $700,000 budget outlay would fund the emergency facility for up to three months.

“Under this arrangement the city would pay Redrock for its services, not to exceed $250,000 for set up and first month and $180,000 for each month thereafter, and then seek reimbursement from FEMA,’’ the staff report said.

“We hope that, if needed at all, it would be less than that (three months),’’ Mermell said. “But we wanted to make sure that we had some latitude.’’

Said Council Member Margaret McAustin: “This is something we absolutely have to do, and let’s hope we don’t need all these beds.’’

Council Member John J. Kennedy, meanwhile, lauded city staff, “To be prepared for what seemingly is not slowing down right now” – a reference to the growing number of COVID-19 cases.

Morgan said that while the hospital is hoping not to need the spillover facility at the convention center, “This is a better plan than (treating patients) on the floor in our cafeteria.”

According to Mayor Terry Tornek, while there is no guarantee the city will be reimbursed for the emergency facility, “We know it’s eligible (under FEMA guidelines).’’

But, Tornek said, “We must take the provision and make sure we won’t run out of beds.’’

While the council approved the matter unanimously, there was opposition registered from neighbors of the convention center, who expressed concerns they would be placed at a higher level of risk for exposure to the highly contagious coronavirus.

Vincent DeRosa, in an email to the council, said, “As a resident of the surrounding area … residents are extremely concerned for their safety.”

Among the reasons DeRosa listed were:

  • “Our immediate area will be exposed to COVID-19 at exponentially higher levels than we already are.”

  • “There is no approved public safety plan to mitigate exposure to healthy residents in the immediate area.”

  • The convention center loading dock is located on Marengo; Deliveries, ambulances with the infected patients, deceased patients, etc., will be dropped off and picked up possibly further spreading COVID-19.”

“As local residents we urge the City Council not to approve this COVID-19 treatment facility until a complete public safety review and plan is developed,’’ DeRosa wrote. “We do not feel safe …”

To those points, Tornek said, “These issues will be addressed. The last thing we want to do is jeopardize people in the close proximity of the convention center.”

For his part, Mermell said, “The city would likely be responsible for some level of security and some janitorial.’’

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