The City Council on Monday afternoon unanimously approved establishing an emergency alternate-care facility at the Pasadena Convention Center to treat COVID-19 patients, in the event that the spread of the coronavirus overwhelms the existing number of beds available at Huntington Hospital.
While those additional beds are not needed yet, the makeshift care facility would add 250 beds initially and as many as 400, should the need grow as a result of a COVID-19 surge in Pasadena and surrounding communities served by Huntington.
The emergency set-up would 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 and could act swiftly to get the emergency facility set up, according to City Manager Steve Mermell.
According to Acting Fire Chief Bryan Frieders, the temporary facility could be fully set up as early as next Wednesday – though, at the moment, it would not be needed, with Huntington’s main facility still able to handle the existing number of patients being treated for COVID-19.
Mermell said the city believes it 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 zero-dollar services agreement with Huntington to provide medical care at the emergency facility.
According to a city staff report, projections provided by Huntington indicate that, at its 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. And while the hospital has been working to increase patient capacity within its facility, such a peak would exceed that capacity by approximately 400 beds.’’
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, the entertainment company, “has a lot of experience setting up festivals and large concerts and other venues, so they know how to do this logistically,’’ Mermell said.
Redrock was selected after consultation with various city agencies, including the Fire Department. Frieders told the council that he had been in touch with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about the corps setting up such a facility in Pasadena, but that there were concerns 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. Redrock Entertainment has extensive experience staging thousands of concerts, festivals and large-scale events.’’
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.
Dr. Lori Morgan, president of Huntington Hospital, 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.’’
Said Mermell: “One way to look at this is, an insurance policy that hopefully doesn’t need to be exercised.”