Updated March 31, 2020 - 8:03 pm
The Southern Nevada Health District Board of Health took a big first step Tuesday toward addressing an anticipated hospital bed shortage, voting in an emergency meeting to build a $3 million, 40-bed isolation facility for people who test positive for the new coronavirus.
Regional leaders’ search for bed space for such patients is not likely to end with that building, which is expected to be completed in no more than 10 days.
County officials say they have assessed several locations for similar facilities, including an unnamed hotel on the Strip, surgical centers and warehouses as part of a broad plan to be prepared.
“We need all different types of housing out there, and this is just one avenue of the bigger piece,” with the aim of adding 500 to 1,000 beds, county Commission Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, vice chair of the health district board, said during the meeting Tuesday.
The purpose of the facility is to isolate people who don’t need to be hospitalized, or who have been released from the hospital but still need to be under quarantine, Dr. Fermin Leguen, acting health director of the district, said during the meeting, conducted via teleconference to maintain social distancing.
Construction on a similar facility began Tuesday at Cashman Center in downtown Las Vegas.
The county and the city of Las Vegas partnered on what will be known as the Cashman ISO-Q Complex, which will be capable of serving at least 350 homeless people when it opens early next week.
The complex off Washington Avenue, just east of Las Vegas Boulevard, will have separate areas for people who are quarantined because they were exposed to the novel coronavirus and isolation areas for those who test positive and have symptoms as well as those who test positive but are asymptomatic.
“Our primary goal in medical surge and our primary strategy is to have the right people in the right facility for the right care,” said Clark County Fire Chief John Steinbeck, who is the county’s emergency manager and liaison to the state.
Still, it was not exactly clear Tuesday what sites — or how many — have been or will ultimately be secured.
At least 500 beds sought
North Las Vegas City Councilman Scott Black, the chairman of the health district board, called the isolation facility just “one cog in the whole system.”
An email from a county official sent Tuesday to elected officials, nonprofits and other community partners, which was shared with the Review-Journal by a recipient, offered a glimpse into the quickly evolving situation.
The message, on behalf of county Social Service Assistant Director Kristin Cooper, indicated the county had secured a 15-bed site for homeless individuals leaving the hospital with COVID-19, but did not identify the site.
The county is also seeking hotel or motel rooms, small congregate living facilities and other shelters for first responders who may have been exposed to the disease or are simply at risk, it said. Shelter also is being sought for youths within the county’s Department of Family Services.
North Las Vegas City Manager Ryann Juden said beds also could be placed at the city’s jail, which is being renovated, or at the former City Hall.
Behind the scenes, elected government and school officials across Southern Nevada have held several meetings this month along with key staff and representatives from the business and hospitality sectors to define the regional response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Providing case management services for COVID-19 patients who belong to vulnerable populations, do not require hospitalization and yet need somewhere to recover has been a focal point of the group, officials say.
“It’s a top priority of the regional team to ensure that we have enough beds to keep our hospitals free,” and provide people the care they need, Kirkpatrick said in an interview late Monday. “So we as a regional team are working together with the state to ensure that does exist.”
The effort to identify alternative care centers has included working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Complex under construction
Each new facility requires its own set of resources.
The Health District and volunteers from local nursing and medical schools will be conducting screenings at the Cashman complex, Burch said.
“These are semi-permanent structures, they’re meant to be here for a while. Our goal is to have them there for at least 90 days,” he said.
So far, only one homeless man has tested positive for COVID-19, according to Burch.
“We know there is more out there, it just comes down to availability and accessibility of testing,” he said.
The complex will only be open to homeless clients who were referred by either the shelter or the hospital, officials said.
It’s expected to be ready for patients by late Monday. The beds, however, do not count toward the regional goal of creating at least 500 bed spaces, according to Steinbeck.
Meanwhile, the isolation facility approved by the health district board is expected to be ready in as little as a week and no longer than 10 days at the district’s offices at 280 S. Decatur Blvd., Leguen said.
The facility will be staffed by doctors, nurses and support staff, and likely district staff and volunteers. he said.
It, too, will primarily serve the homeless population, those living in a group setting, such as a nursing home or assisted living facility and visitors to the region who do not have a place in which to isolate themselves, Black told the Review-Journal on Monday.
Asked at the telebriefing if individuals would be forced to stay under quarantine, Black said, “We’re not incarcerating or confining individuals,” but that the health district would strongly recommend that individuals stay if they have no better option for self-isolating.
Four out of five people infected by the new coronavirus develop mild symptoms, according to public health authorities. Those who don’t need to be hospitalized typically are asked to isolate themselves at home to minimize the chances of transmitting COVID-19. But self-isolation poses particular challenges to those without a place to call home or who live in a group setting.
The facility will be a modular building constructed by Xtreme manufacturing, according to a source familiar with the project.
Under the proposal, the Federal Emergency Management Agency would reimburse a significant percentage of the cost of the annex.
Contact Shea Johnson at email@example.com or 702-383-0272. Follow @Shea_LVRJ on Twitter. Contact Mary Hynes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0336. Review-Journal staff writers Blake Apgar and Briana Erickson contributed to this report.