Memphis shopping center is new site for COVID-19 overflow hospital

Published: Apr. 3, 2020 at 5:51 AM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - As the number of COVID-19 cases continue to increase, there is a real concern that hospitals could quickly reach capacity in the coming weeks.

State and local leaders want to reserve the most critical patients for hospitals.

Governor Bill Lee said Thursday patients facing less serious symptoms in Memphis will be housed at an open space located at the Gateway Shopping Center on Jackson Avenue.

There is an empty space with up to 105,000 square feet inside that will be retrofitted into a makeshift hospital by the Corps of Engineers, according to Governor Lee.

Dr. Aram Dobalian is the director of the Division of Health Systems and Policy at the University of Memphis. He has also led disaster research for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

He said shopping centers are often good locations for makeshift hospitals since it offers an ample amount of water, electricity and parking.

“If you look at hospitals in places like Australia, they were actually modeled and designed after shopping centers in many ways,” said Dobalian.

There has been some concern.

One woman on Twitter who says she lives two miles from the proposed hospital tweeted, “THIS is where they’re setting up a temporary medical site. A poor, crime-ridden congested residential area, with the least amount of COVID 19 cases in the county.”

Dr. Dobalian said neighbors should not be concerned.

“In many ways you actually want the hospital to be near people. If it’s too far out it will be inconvenient for folks. It will be inconvenient for health care providers,” said Dobalian,

Dobalian said it’s not necessary to be close to the highest clusters of patients, but rather the medical staff that will need to care for them

This location is about 10 minutes from the medical district.

Governor Lee and city officials also say this is not the only location they are considering.

The Army Corp of Engineers will lead the effort of transforming any chosen space into an overflow hospital space.

Governor Lee also says facilities are only one part of planning for the surge patients, so are health care staff.

Thursday, the governor called on all displaced or furloughed healthcare workers to register at the Tennessee Department of Health to see if they can help.

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