In the face of an ongoing national health crisis, assessment teams from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District have been evaluating possible sites for Alternative Care Facilities (ACF) across western Pennsylvania and northeastern Ohio.
The mission, assigned by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) after requested by the state, is to provide planning and assessment for the possible conversion of existing hotels, open-space or dormitory-type buildings into ACFs.
ACF design provides increased capacity by building additional spaces that can be utilized for varying levels of COVID care and include upgrades or retrofitting of shuttered medical care facilities.
To date, the Pittsburgh District teams have completed assessments at two universities, a convention center and a closed medical center in western Pennsylvania and a multipurpose arena and federal prison in northeastern Ohio.
“The goal of our assessment teams is to provide the state with usable retrofitting options to meet their health care needs,” said Lt. Col. Jonathan Klink, commander, Pittsburgh District.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is the federal government’s lead public works and engineering support agency during emergencies. Overall, the Corps has received seven FEMA-mission assignments totaling approximately $436 million and engaged more than 15,000 personnel who are providing support both on-site and virtually.
“We are prepared to walk local and state officials through the process required to request support through the state; acquire the funding needed; assist in assessing the viability of sites; coordinate requirements and administer contracts and oversee construction,” said Lt. Col. Klink.
Currently, Pittsburgh District is on standby for mission assignments to begin the process of preparing ACFs for action at two previously assessed sites.
The work to identify those sites, and provide states and FEMA with the selection recommendations, was rigorous said Jeff Fritz, deputy chief of Engineering and Construction Division, Pittsburgh District.
“The teams’ main objectives are to assess existing facilities for viability as an ACF,” said Mr. Fritz. “The states identify the sites and then the teams do the assessment. We have a standard checklist that we follow for each assessment.
The team includes a project manager, an engineering and construction lead - a role filled by Fritz – a civil site engineer, a structural engineer, a mechanical engineer, a construction engineer and a cost engineer.
“Each of those disciplines is necessary to complete the comprehensive assessments that are required,” said Mr. Fritz. “We look at the facilities for the adequacy of existing systems, life safety issues, and how best to retrofit for patient-care spaces. I have two separate teams supporting this effort.”
While identifying safety concerns at potential ACFs, teams make sure to follow the latest Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for fighting COVID-19. Now, members conduct their assessments wearing personally protective equipment, practicing social distancing and following strict decontamination procedures, including proper disposal of their PPE.
The teams will continue to assess sites and stand ready to assist in the conversion of the identified ACFs to functioning healthcare centers if needed.
“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is always prepared to assist the nation in a time of crisis,” said Lt. Col. Klink. “Pittsburgh District is just one piece in the whole-of-government effort working with the White House, Department of Defense, and other federal, state and local partners in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
For more information about the Alternate Care Facility Conversion mission, visit https://www.usace.army.mil/Coronavirus/Alternate-Care-Sites/.