LOS ANGELES – Brig. Gen. Paul Owen, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers South Pacific Division commander, visited two Los Angeles-area hospitals March 19 to view the progress on construction the Corps and its contractors are doing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While in Southern California, the general visited the Corps’ project sites at Adventist Health White Memorial Medical Center in Boyle Heights and Beverly Community Hospital in Montebello.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers deployed to the Los Angeles area Jan. 1 as part of FEMA’s support to the State of California under the COVID-19 major disaster declaration. Several LA-area hospitals were having oxygen system issues and overcapacity due to the surge in COVID-19 patients at that time.
After assessing 12 hospital sites in the greater Los Angeles area, the Corps received missions to complete contracting and construction at three hospitals: Adventist Health White Memorial Medical Center; Beverly Community Hospital; and Mission Community Hospital in Panorama City.
During his visit to the hospitals, Owen checked out the progress of an 80-bed alternate care facility at Adventist Health White Memorial Medical Center that will house COVID-19 patients. The tent-like structure is erected in the hospital’s parking lot and is expected to be completed at the end of March.
Owen expressed gratitude for the cooperation and partnership with local, state and federal agencies on getting the hospital upgrades completed within 90 days of receiving the first call from FEMA for assistance.
“I’m proud to be standing in this facility, three months later, where we went from assessing 12 sites, conducting detailed engineering construction assessments for seven sites and were awarded three sites,” he said. “This is one of those in construction now – an incredible job by a whole team of players that have made this happen.”
The general then headed to Beverly Community Hospital, where the Corps and its contractors completed the conversion of the hospital’s west wing into a 17-room, NON-COVID patient area and the hospital’s day care waiting room into a COVID patient staging area, by adding high-flow oxygen and converting the area to negative pressure. The final inspection of the construction work at the hospital was completed earlier that morning.
“This is a whole government approach, working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the California Department of Public Health and the California Office of Emergency Services,” said Veronica Verde, external affairs officer for FEMA Region IX, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, who accompanied the group to see the completed work at Beverly Community Hospital.
“What we’ve seen today is just a great example of some of the steps we needed to take to ensure that we fight against COVID-19,” she added. “We saw throughout COVID-19 how many people were affected and how hospitals were over-capacitated in their ICUs. This hospital is a great example of how we have helped alleviate a lot of those issues with the help of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It started on Jan. 1. Within a couple of months, this project was completed. This is definitely something that is historic, and it’s something that we will continue to do with the State of California and LA County.”
Victoria Bane, director of facilities at Beverly Community Hospital, thanked the Corps and said the completion of the upgrades poises the hospital to be ready if there is another COVID-19 surge.
“On behalf of the hospital, I just want to say thank you so much,” said Victoria Bane, director of facilities at Beverly Community Hospital. “We’ve really enjoyed your presence here, and we are looking forward to using this space – especially if we have another surge – we will be ready.”
Owen said the important piece to completing the hospital was the strong partnership between all agencies involved.
“It takes a partnership – clearly – between the federal government, the state government and the local government to get this done, and especially with the speed with which we have been able to, given the circumstances,” Owen said. “That was all very, very important. This has been a really effective partnership. And, the ultimate prize is to deliver this facility to the hospital and allow them to use it for future purposes.”
In addition to White Memorial and Beverly hospitals, the Corps and its contractors also are constructing two alternate care facilities adjacent to Mission Community Hospital in Panorama City, California. One is a 24-bed facility for COVID-acute patients, and the other is a 10-bed facility for Non-COVID, non-acute patients. Final inspection at Mission Community Hospital is scheduled for mid-April.