State takes control of Memphis COVID-19 overflow hospital

Updated: May. 18, 2020 at 5:50 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - It’s a massive project state leaders hope will never be needed.

Monday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officially handed control of a new overflow hospital for local COVID-19 patients to the state.

The Corps of Engineers, working alongside several public and private partners, spent the last month converting the former Commercial Appeal building on Union Avenue into the overflow hospital, officially known as an alternate care site.

"I've never built an airplane in flight, but I would suspect this would be the closest thing to it," said Major General Jeffrey Holmes, Tennessee's top military leader.

The facility provides 401 beds.

An area on the fourth floor that once served as a mailroom for the newspaper has been converted into a space with more than 250 makeshift hospital rooms to treat patients requiring longer-term care.

Part of the old newsroom on the third floor is where patients in need of the most intensive care would be treated.

"Of course, the location of this is near all the great medical facilities of Memphis, so the location of this building was absolutely critical," said Major Gen. Robert Whittle with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee joined Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris and other leaders for a private tour of the building.

"The amount of work that's been done here in the last 30 days is incredible," said Lee.

The state signed an 18-month lease on the building, but it may never see one patient.

“We hope that we never have to use this building for COVID-19 overflow,” said Lee. “But we also know this building could be used for other things in the future and we’re proud so many came together to make this happen.”

The corps said the cost to convert the building came out to around $51 million.

The state and the federal government would each chip in to pay that, though Lee says the price tag is still not final.

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