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Hurley YMCA would become medical shelter as ‘extreme backup’

SALISBURY – The J.F. Hurley Family YMCA and Rowan County Emergency Management say they are prepared to turn the facility into a medical shelter if Novant Health Rowan Medical Center and the W.G. “Bill” Hefner VA Medical Center reach capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic

At the moment there is no indication the county will need to use it or that hospital capacities will be exceeded, said Rowan County Emergency Services Chief Chris Soliz.

Soliz said this is an “extreme backup” because both hospitals already have their own contingency plans and are prepared to handle a surge in patients.

“Part of what we do in emergency management is plan for worst-case scenarios, anticipate things and develop solutions early in the process,” Soliz said.

If the Y needs to be used, the process of converting it to a shelter would be coordinated with the state, which is working on plans to handle higher numbers of patients in hospitals.

“In our profession, we expect to do anything,” Soliz said.

The W.G. “Bill” Hefner Va Medical Center is a 484-bed facility, according to the Veterans Administration. Novant Health Rowan Medical Center is officially certified for 268 beds, but that counts some double-occupancy rooms. While patients hospitalized for other reasons could require a number of beds in both facilities, the current number of COVID-19 patients who were hospitalized was 11 on Wednesday, according to the Rowan County Health Department.

The facility is already an approved emergency shelter — a factor Hurley YMCA Executive Director Richard Reinholz said eliminates extra paperwork.

Reinholz said all of the Y’s programs have been shut down due to the pandemic, except for some ongoing maintenance. Maintenance workers are all working in separate parts of the facility. The YMCA, though, is streaming workout classes on its Facebook page.

“We explored a couple of different options,” Reinholz said. “Childcare was one option, temporary housing for COVID-19 displaced, but when Chris reached out and we talked about it the conversation started.”

In the event the facility is used as a shelter, the Y would keep emergency maintenance staff on standby to repair its HVAC equipment and take steps to protect the floors so they would not need to be repaired after moving heavy medical equipment inside. The facility has floor plans to isolate certain patients as well.

For now, emergency Services is focusing on educating the public about the disease and encouraging people to heed the governor’s executive order to stay home.

“We need everybody’s participation and cooperation if we’re going to help each other,” Soliz said. “One of the biggest things we can ask, is even if you don’t think you’re personally going to be affected, think about our healthcare providers, nurses, doctors and first responders.”

Emergency services is also trying to reach the homeless population and supply personal protective equipment as much as possible to people that need it.

The Rowan County Health Department will host a question and answer session at 1 p.m. on April 15. Questions can be submitted online via the county’s COVID-19 webpage at rowancountync.gov/COVID-19.

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