Construction starting in St. Louis County on state’s first alternative health-care site

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By Claire Colby, Missouri News Network

Missouri National Guard troops have started work on Missouri’s first alternative health care facility to help respond to an influx of COVID-19 patients. The site is in North St. Louis County.

“We know there is an increasing concern over hospital bed space equipment and alternative care sites,” Gov. Mike Parson said in his Wednesday afternoon press conference. 

As of Wednesday, Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services reported 3,327 confirmed cases and 58 deaths from COVID-19.

 “We continue to communicate with medical experts, hospitals across the state, review the data and keep track of bed spaces and equipment,” Parson said. “And right now, Missouri is in a good place.”

Also Wednesday, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page asked Parson to bring the National Guard to St. Louis County to assist in COVID-19 response.

The alternative facility is being built in a converted hotel in Florissant, in St. Louis County. The National Guard is already on site for pre-construction, and construction should begin this weekend. The hotel will provide more than 100 additional hospital beds, Missouri National Guard Gen. Levon Cumpton said.

The facility will have the potential to start accepting patients as early as next week. It was chosen after a search by Missouri’s Alternate Care Site Working Group and is intended to house patients who test positive for coronavirus but show mild or no symptoms or those who have been exposed and are identified as needing hospitalization. It’s an effort to free up room in hospitals for sicker patients.

Staffing at the converted hotel would come from the National Guard and the State Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Medical Assistance Team, commonly called MO DMAT-1.

“We’re taking firm and decisive action to confront this virus,” Cumpton said.

Parson identified the St. Louis region as a hotspot in a news release. And in data released by St. Louis County, several ZIP codes in North County — where Florissant is located — continues to show one of the highest concentrations of positive tests in both the county and the state.

Since Missouri is under a federal disaster declaration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will pay 75 percent of the costs associated with transforming the hotel into an alternate care site and/or caring for individuals housed there.

To potentially provide staffing for additional alternate care sites, the Missouri Department of Public Safety is currently reviewing applications from hundreds of medical professionals who responded to Parson’s call on Saturday for physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists and other health-care professionals to apply to join MO DMAT-1 to support Missouri’s COVID-19 response.

Medical professionals say if Missourians continue to practice recommended social distancing, handwashing and sanitizing techniques, it will lessen the spread of COVID-19 and ease the pressure on hospitals, which would reduce the need for additional alternate care sites.

Across the state, Missouri’s Department of Public Safety is continuing to order and provide personal protective equipment to first responders. Department director Sandy Karsten said that Missouri received a shipment of 1 million masks Wednesday. About 24,000 masks were sent to local law enforcement agencies and fire departments.

As Missouri reaches the third day of the statewide stay-at-home order, Parson stressed personal responsibility as the primary means of enforcing the order. 

“People in Missouri will take the responsibility upon themselves to stay home, which they have,” he said. “And they will continue to do that. And I think we’re going to get better and better at that every day.”

Parson also said that it should be up to individual employers and business owners to determine whether or not to require employees and customers to wear masks.

“I don’t think that’s the state’s place to mandate who wears masks and who don’t at this point,” he said.