Army Corps assessing 15 sites for 'alternate care facilities' to house Michigan hospital overflow

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is assessing at least 15 sites — including athletic centers, dormitories, convention centers and hotels — to serve as backups to Michigan hospitals that might hit capacity due to an influx of coronavirus patients.  

The Detroit District is working under FEMA but at the direction of the state to assess a list of potential alternate care facilities that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office has prepared, said Lynn Rose, a spokeswoman for the Corps’ Detroit District. 

“We’re working with the state and the local communities and whoever owns or operates the facilities as well,” Rose said. “We know that this is a dire need for the community and we are here to make sure that something gets done quickly.”

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers staff assess a Detroit Pistons practice location as a possible site for an alternate facility to host overflow of coronavirus patients from Michigan hospitals.

The corps had assessed seven sites so far, Rose said, and had planned to assess another eight on Friday.

The corps posted photos on its Facebook page of the various areas they’re assessing, including the TCF Center, the Henry Ford Detroit Pistons Performance Center and two Wayne State University dormitories in Detroit.

This comes as confirmed cases rose to 1,075 among Detroiters on Friday, among the hardest-hit areas of the state. 

The corps effort is part of two FEMA Mission Assignments totaling $5.6 million to “provide initial planning and engineering support nationwide to address possible medical facility shortages," according to information posted to the district's website.

Once the corps has assessed the various sites, Whitmer will decide on which ones meet the state’s needs, Rose said. It's not yet clear whether the Corps would be used to retrofit the facilities or whether the state would utilize its own resources to do so. 

The state on Wednesday informed hospitals that it would take action to shift patients from overburdened southeast Michigan hospitals to out-state facilities and explore the possibility of alternate sites for patients, such as convention centers and hotels. 

Health system leaders in southeast Michigan in recent days have expressed concerns about the surge in coronavirus cases and the stress it's put on resources. But they have also said it will be difficult to shift lab resources, medical equipment and personnel to any sort of field hospital. 

Whitmer on Wednesday said she was informed the construction of an alternate facility could take three weeks to complete but she hoped to expedite the process. 

Rose expressed a similar hope but said there is no timeline for when construction would start.

“We’re going as quickly as we possibly can,” she said. “We’ve got a lot of people who are pushed out there to do these things.”