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Closed hospital fixed up to treat COVID-19 patients

Construction workers in the Miyamura High School gym in Gallup work on oxygen lines from an auxiliary tank. (Justin Graff/U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

COVID-19 patients are expected to be treated at the retrofitted former Lovelace hospital at Gibson Medical Center in a matter of days, according to a New Mexico Department of Health official.

“The facility is slated to be operational April 27, but it could be earlier, so that date’s subject to change,” DOH spokesman David Morgan told the Journal.

And while the facility has been prepared to house COVID-19 patients, he said the building is large enough that “it could be used to handle general overflow as well.”

He said the operation will be staffed in large part by members of New Mexico’s Medical Reserve Corps.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers signed over the building to the state Department of Health last weekend, making as many as 200 beds available.


University of New Mexico Regions Professor Reed Selwyn talks about site layout with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers personnel and state health care staff during a walk through of the former Lovelace hospital last week.  (Justin Graff/U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

Albuquerque-based Weil Construction and local subcontractors completed the work in 14 days under the supervision of the Corps. Weil Construction owner Chris Weil told the Journal it was not an easy task because of the aging infrastructure. The hospital on Gibson SE closed in 2007.

“We had 150 workers on the project,” Weil said. “We were running 24/7.”

The renovation cost $3.6 million. Meanwhile, another $2.5 million was spent getting the gym at Miyamura High School in Gallup set up to house 60 patients, according to the Corps. The projects were primarily funded by the

Federal Emergency Management Agency, along with state matching money.

The construction challenges at the former Lovelace hospital, according to the Corps, included repairing the plumbing and elevators. Weil said the plumbing was “rusting and rotting.”

“Any sort of work you do on a building that is shuttered is going to be a challenge,” said Lt. Col. Robin Scott, deputy commander of the Corps’ Albuquerque district. “We were fortunate to have a great contractor and subcontractors working on the site.”

Work also was done on the electrical, alarm and HVAC systems. Window units were added in places to create negative pressure, which ensures that air in patient areas is removed through the filtration system instead of going through areas occupied by other patients and medical staff.

Work was also done on oxygen systems in patient areas, Weil said.

Scott said, “We had to get innovative with some of our oxygen drops.”

Some exam rooms and offices were also renovated for use as patient rooms.

DOH and state health agencies are coordinating medical beds, supplies and staffing at both the hospital and the gym at Miyamura High School, the Corps said.

“They seemed to indicate they will utilize the Miyamura High School alternate


A member of the Army Corps of Engineers project management team during a walk through of the former Lovelace hospital last week. (Justin Graff/U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

care site (in Gallup) a lot sooner,” Scott said. That site is closer to the Navajo Nation COVID-19 outbreak.

The Corps used the “arena-to-health care” concept in converting the Miyamura gym into a COVID-19 treatment facility. Additional flooring was put down to protect the gym’s permanent floor.

The gym’s existing plumbing was used to route water to sinks in the patient area. The gym will have negative pressure to filter air out. Oxygen will be run through copper piping to each room in the patient area.

Two alternate care sites are also under construction in the Navajo Nation in Shiprock and Chinle, Arizona, “using the same concept that we used in Gallup,” Scott said.

Gyms at Atsa Biyaazh Community School in Shiprock and the Chinle Community Center are being used. The Shiprock site will house 40 beds, while the Chinle site will house 50 beds, according to the Corps.

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