By the middle of next week, Mary Washington Hospital will have an operational “field hospital” set up in the parking garage next to the emergency department, in the event there’s a surge of COVID-19 patients.

Unlike other hospitals nationwide that have erected large tents in parking lots, Mary Washington is using existing, closed-in space in an attempt to keep the area “safe and sound,” said Lisa Henry, marketing director for Mary Washington Healthcare, which operates Mary Washington and Stafford hospitals.

At first glance, parts of the area look like a makeshift showroom for a furniture sale. Olive colored recliners on wheels are arranged along the concrete floor against a backdrop of columns identifying the parking level.

Privacy curtains eventually will be placed between the chairs and stretchers will be added, if needed, Henry said. Health care officials basically have set up a MASH unit, she said, as in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, where patients are assessed and the most critical are treated first.

Patients will be triaged as they drive up. Those with mild symptoms will be treated in the field hospital, while others with moderate to severe conditions will enter the emergency department.

“We are steps away from the hospital for any patient that may need services only available inside the hospital,” Henry said.

The field hospital will have a portable X-ray machine, oxygen units, intravenous equipment and similar supplies. Currently, the space is set up for 50 recliners, but could hold twice that many if chairs are moved closer together.

There’s also other seating available for patients who perhaps come for testing—when more test kits become available—then are discharged.

Mary Washington Healthcare postponed all its elective surgeries, starting Thursday, and will assign workers from those departments into needed areas. They’ll join emergency-room workers who either will be assigned to the normal, day-to-day emergencies or dealing with the COVID-19 triage and treatment, Henry said.

Even though the field hospital will be operational in a few days, that doesn’t mean it will be open for business. Health care officials hope it’s not needed and that there won’t be a surge of new cases that require its use.

And, before a hospital can operate out of a parking garage, state health care officials have to define the situation as being in crisis status, Henry said. Currently, hospitals are operating under contingency status.

The Fredericksburg area has three confirmed cases of COVID-19. The first was diagnosed at Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center and the two others, both Stafford County residents, are being treated at Mary Washington.

All three of Mary Washington Healthcare’s emergency departments, including the one at Lee’s Hill, are prepared to care for COVID-19 patients, Henry said.

In an update posted Wednesday, Dr. Christopher Newman, chief medical officer of Mary Washington Healthcare, said Mary Washington and Stafford hospitals are awaiting results of 68 patients tested for COVID-19. That doesn’t include the “many patients in our emergency departments who have symptoms but are not sick enough for hospital admission.” They’re being asked to stay home while they recover.

“To beat this virus, we need to remain vigilant with our [personal protective equipment] use, treatment protocols, visitation policies and communication efforts on the importance of social distancing,” Newman said.

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

cdyson@freelancestar.com

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