The Army field hospital dispatched to Seattle will be returned to the federal government so it can redeploy to a different state facing a more urgent need, Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee said Wednesday.
The decision to reallocate the soldiers to another state comes as the Army Corps of Engineers warns local authorities to consider whether it’s worth building facilities to take hospital overflow if those facilities won’t be ready until after they pass their projected peak in COVID-19 cases. Many major cities are expected to peak this month.
Soldiers from the 627th Hospital Center out of Fort Carson, Colorado, began establishing a 250-bed hospital inside the CenturyLink Field Event Center in Seattle more than a week ago. The hospital commander said her team was planning to accept patients early this week.
Instead, those deployed to Seattle will prepare for new assignments, a U.S. Army North spokesman said Thursday morning. The command will work with FEMA to determine where those soldiers should be sent next.
The 627th Hospital Center was dispatched to care for non-COVID-19 patients in anticipation of the hospitals in Seattle being overwhelmed. But that threat has dissipated, according to Inslee, who said, “at this point, our hospitals should have enough capacity to support a surge in patients.”
“These soldiers uprooted their lives to help Washingtonians when we needed them most,” Inslee added. "Since then, it’s become apparent that other states need them more than we do. It’s only right that we release this capability so those states have the tools necessary to help end this nation-wide fight that we are all battling together.”
Washington state, one of the worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic early on, has since purchased an additional 1,000 hospital beds and more than 900 ventilators. The state has also finalized leases on other overflow facilities in the event that the traditional hospital system there is overburdened, rendering the Army’s setup unnecessary, Inslee said.
“We requested this resource before our physical distancing strategies were fully implemented and we had considerable concerns that our hospitals would be overloaded," he added. "But we haven’t beat this virus yet, and until we do, it has the potential to spread rapidly if we don’t continue the measures we’ve put in place.”
The Army Corps of Engineers has completed construction at the Javits Center in New York City, which is being utilized by the 531st Hospital Center dispatched from Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Another facility at the TCF Center in Detroit is 95 percent completed, Army officials said.
The Army Corps of Engineers conducted more than 800 site estimates around the country, looking at hotels, arenas and college dorms to convert into makeshift medical facilities. Seventeen of those are nearly competed or ongoing, which will bring roughly 15,000 extra beds across the country.
Other proposed sites may take too long to get contracts drawn up and construction underway to make a difference for local hospitals, said Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers. If state leaders determine they need those facilities, though, Semonite’s personnel will still help build them.
“The last thing we want to do is have someone die for lack of a bed space,” he told reporters at the Pentagon Wednesday, adding that the Army Corps of Engineers is pushing contractors hard to build quickly in hot spots. “We don’t have time to deal with red tape and bureaucracy.”
Facilities yet to be completed include the conversion of Music City Center in Nashville, which the Pentagon announced Tuesday. The convention complex is expected to be for less severe COVID-19 patients.
The Army Corps of Engineers awarded a $13 million contract to AECOM Technical Services Inc. to convert the complex into an alternate care facility by April 29. Tennessee is expected to hit its COVID-19 peak in mid-April, according to several models.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.