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    Benelux stands up COVID-19 facility in less than 30 days

    Former chapel, current medical holding facility

    Photo By Bryan Gatchell | CHIEVRES, Belgium -- Teams from U.S. Army Garrison Benelux and its mission partners...... read more read more



    Story by Bryan Gatchell 

    U.S. Army Garrison Benelux

    BRUSSELS -- Earlier during the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Army Benelux workforce did not know the extent to which the disease would spread within Belgium, within the garrison community, nor with what rapidity.

    It was in this uncertainty that the garrison and its mission partners planned and stood up a medical holding facility in less than 30 days in the chapel at Caserne Daumerie, the former site of the garrison headquarters.

    The garrison’s intent was to repurpose an unused space away from normal operations to bring community service members suffering respiratory distress. The patients would stay at the holding facility until Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany was ready to receive them and travel arrangements were in place.

    Caserne Daumerie is across the Grand Rue in Chièvres from Chièvres Air Base, the garrison’s current headquarters. The caserne has largely been inactive since most of its activities moved to the air base, making the caserne an ideal location for standing up temporary COVID-19 response facilities. In addition to the medical holding facility, there are also quarantine and isolation facilities on the property for service members arriving from COVID-19 hotspots.

    Lt. Col. Anthony Rhea, deputy commander for nursing care at SHAPE Healthcare Facility, described the impetus for setting up the facility.

    “What can we do if this pandemic reaches a point where the Belgian healthcare system gets overwhelmed, and they cannot take care of our U.S. / SHAPE NATO community?” asked Rhea. “The Belgian government and the Belgian healthcare system did a good job of managing COVID-19 in their country to where we didn’t reach the point where we thought we had to use this facility.”

    “It’s a contingency plan,” said Dwayne Key, plans officer for USAG Benelux. “It’s a plan of something that you hope you’ll never have to use.”

    Key, with other garrison organizations and mission partners, originally worked on the medical holding facility with the intent in mind to establish a field hospital or combat support hospital. It was determined, however, that to construct a temporary hospital would require greater resources from U.S. Army Europe, which might strain the medical system, as COVID-19 was an issue the entire theater was already occupied with.

    Instead, the facility was designed as a waystation for the ill, able to accommodate as many as 10 personnel suffering intermediate to intense respiratory distress for a few hours.

    “The great thing about this building is it’s just a shell,” said Rhea. “So let’s say that for whatever reason they (Regional Health Command - Europe) can send a portion of a field hospital here that can provide longer care in the facility, they can still do that.”

    Key was amazed at the rapidity with which everyone worked together to accomplish establishing this hospital.

    “From the day that we received our mission and the commander’s intent … it reached that initial stage of readiness in just under 30 days,” he said.

    Of the improvements to the building, Plexiglass walls were erected within to prevent the spread of the virus by the beds. Plastic sheeting was put up on all other walls in the building. New flooring was put down. Electric capacity was increased to accommodate medical equipment. An air flow unit that helps pressurize the interior so that the air is filtered and so patients are not at risk for aggravating their condition. A ramp allows easier transport of patients on gurneys. There is a staff entrance that looks like an enclosed porch where personnel can change into their personal protective equipment and a similar looking staff exit where personnel can disinfect before leaving the facility.

    These improvements took personnel from the Directorate of Public Works to complete in three weeks. Scott Chapman, the chief of business operations and integration for DPW said the renovation was “a perfect example of how great teamwork makes wonderful things happen.”

    “DPW maintenance workers, supply technicians and engineers worked tirelessly together with SHAPE Healthcare employees to condense a six-week project into three,” Chapman said.

    Key said the modifications made to the building did not represent the entirety of the planning process. They also thought of what support they needed to provide the lifesaving staff, of how to support Families whose service members were ill.

    “While the hospital or treatment facility was being built, the planning team was also putting together and standing up our abilities to execute those efforts as well,” said Key. “So it wasn’t just a singular focus; it was a broad look at what was the one thing that we would absolutely have to do and then the other things that were essential to success after the first patient arrives.”

    In the Netherlands and in Belgium, the trend of daily new hospitalizations has largely been decreasing since early April. Key said that given their teams’ ability to establish the facility and to establish the facility so quickly, expanding capacity at Caserne Daumerie by using the former garrison headquarters building would be possible should the need arise.

    Rhea, on the other hand, judging by Belgium’s capacity to manage with the virus, did not believe expansion would be necessary, even if the number of hospitalizations were to swell in a second wave of infections. He said that 10 beds was enough for the wider USAG Benelux community.

    “That should be sufficient for holding capability,” he said. “For the size of the population that we support, for this particular virus, that should be sufficient.”



    Date Taken: 05.14.2020
    Date Posted: 05.14.2020 06:16
    Story ID: 369947
    Location: BRUSSELS, BRU, BE 
    Hometown: CHIEVRES, WHT, BE

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