Temporary hospital could have life after pandemic

By , Daily Memphian Updated: April 30, 2020 5:46 PM CT | Published: April 30, 2020 5:46 PM CT

The field hospital being built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at 495 Union Ave. comes with an 18-month lease and the idea that the medical facility could find some kind of use beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

The medical facility, set to open in mid-May in the vacant building, is one of several indicators that the city’s response to pandemic will change its response to long-standing problems and issues that existed before.

Memphis-based oxygen supplier plays key role in Union Ave. ‘pop-up’ hospital

“I think it’s really going to change a lot of things,” city chief operating officer Doug McGowen said of the pandemic on the WKNO Channel 10 program “Behind The Headlines.”

“It’s not just the immediate responses that you are seeing,” he said. “I think we are going to see fundamentally a shift in a number of ways in how we deliver services more effectively to those citizens who need them.”

<strong>Doug McGowen</strong>

Doug McGowen

Those measures that could mark a long-term change include an EMS center at the Fairgrounds set up for Fire Department ambulances to triage patients in the event local emergency rooms are overwhelmed by a pandemic surge and to shelter those who are homeless. He also cited a pet food pantry by Memphis Animal Services.

McGowen said the alternative hospital in the Union building once occupied by The Commercial Appeal is unique among 26 similar facilities being built across the country in response to the pandemic.

“Many of them are in arenas and once this pandemic is over, they will have to be disassembled and moved out,” he said. “It (495 Union) will remain as an alternate care facility during the period of that 18 months. Should we see a second wave of this pandemic – should we need to respond in some other way -- we will have that facility with us for at least 18 months. … I anticipate there will be a great use of that facility irrespective of whether we put one patient in there from this COVID pandemic.”

Beyond the medical facility, McGowen said the response to the pandemic locally has taught lessons “that will be with us for decades to come.”

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“The delivery of services are forever changed in many ways,” he said.

Even before Thursday’s announcement of a phase one reopening of the Memphis area economy, McGowen said there had been discussions about a Phase 3 or beyond return to large gatherings like Grizzlies games or the Memphis In May International Festival.

He described the discussions as “robust.”

“It requires a detailed level of discussion. It requires a detailed level of controls to be put in place,” McGowen said. “It’s just, quite frankly, very hard to assemble large groups of people when you still have a significant number of cases in your community. It requires special detail for those areas where large groups of people are gathering. It is an ongoing conversation.”

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Also this week, the city got $113.6 million in federal funding from the CARES Act — one of several relief packages for the pandemic.

McGowen knows the general rules for what it can and can’t be used for but it still working through the specifics.

“It’s literally for those extraordinary expenses that are over and above what we had already budgeted for,” he said. “We’re hopeful that we can use some of that money to use for our budgeting needs this year and next year. But it will not be a substantial portion of that $113 million.”

The city’s new fiscal year begins July 1 and Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland presented his budget proposal for that new fiscal year to the Memphis City Council earlier this month — about one month into the global pandemic.

Strickland estimated the city has lost more than $100 million in revenues from closing the economy as a reaction to the pandemic and to stop the spread of the virus. That breaks down as an estimated $23 million loss in the current fiscal year and another $80 million in the new fiscal year.

Strickland presents three possible budgets as city projects $80 million COVID hit on revenues

The city is hopeful federal aid specifically to be used to make up for lost revenue will be included in another piece of legislation.

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen of Memphis said early drafts of that legislation did not include allowing the funding for that kind of use but that negotiations were still underway in Washington.

Editor’s Note: The Daily Memphian is making our coronavirus coverage accessible to all readers — no subscription needed. Our journalists continue to work around the clock to provide you with the extensive coverage you need; if you can subscribe, please do

Congress will not return to the Capitol next week as expected to begin work on that issue.

“Behind The Headlines,” hosted by Eric Barnes of The Daily Memphian, airs Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 8:30 a.m. on WKNO. You can also hear the audio portion of the show on The Behind The Headlines Podcast on this site.


COVID reopening Doug McGowen Field hospitals Behind The Headlines

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Bill Dries

Bill Dries

Bill Dries covers city and county government and politics. He is a native Memphian and has been a reporter for more than 40 years.


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