UPDATED: Mercy, National Guard to Operate Field Hospital at Covelli Centre

Updated 6 p.m. April 6 – Comments and details from press conference with U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan and Drs. John Luellen and James Kravec.
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A temporary field hospital at the Covelli Centre operated by Mercy Health, Ohio National Guard and Army Corps of Engineers will allow for the treatment of COVID-19 patients after they’ve passed the peak of their illness.

The site will ease the strain on Mercy’s intensive care capacity at its three local hospitals, which is expected to increase as Ohio faces a surge of COVID-19 cases in the coming weeks.

“There’s a certain type of patient, after they’re off the ventilator or have recovered from the worst part of it, where there’s a delay between that and sending them home or to a nursing home,” said Dr. James Kravec, Mercy Health-Youngstown’s chief clinical officer, in an afternoon press conference. “We’re able to offload some of those patients to leave the hospital a little bit early to get the care they need from a hospital setting [without] taking up the acute care setting that other patients who are sicker might need.”

Compared to patients without symptoms of COVID-19, the disease spread by the coronavirus, those who are diagnosed tend to be in the hospital longer, he said. Combined with a projected surge of cases that means space in hospitals will be at a premium. Last week, Gov. Mike DeWine and Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health, said the state would need to double or triple its capacity.

“One of the most important components of this conversation is making sure we have the capacity to care for the citizens of the Valley in the Valley to the extent that’s possible,” said Dr. John Luellen, president of Mercy Health-Youngstown. “[We want] to avoid the situations we’ve seen in other cities across the country.” 

At the Covelli Centre, Mercy staff will provide care for the roughly 250 patients, while the Ohio National Guard and Army Corps of Engineers will handle the setup, operation and teardown of the field hospital. Luellen said the hospital should be ready in about two weeks.

“We’ve put a management team in place that will lead this facility as we would any one of our hospitals,” he said. “That management will take the lead in working with the governmental agencies to deploy resources that are either purchased or provided by the Guard or requisitioned from FEMA.”

Visitors to the field hospital will be restricted, but families of admitted patients will have access to virtual visit capabilities. 

Luellen and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan added that the social distancing measures ordered by DeWine seem to be working in pushing peak number of cases later into April and lowering the peak number of hospital beds needed. But, Ryan warned, those measures are still needed.

“It could very quickly unravel if people think that because it’s working, they can start going out again. The key here is to stick with it,” said Ryan, D-13 Ohio. “It appears to working and moving the peak date out, which gives Mercy the chance to set up the field hospital. This isn’t a time to say, ‘Great! We moved the needle, let’s go party.’ ”

While the Ohio National Guard and Army Corps were shown other sites in the Mahoning Valley, including the now-closed Northside Medical Center and Youngstown State University, the Covelli Centre was chosen because is “offered very specific things they’re looking for,” Luellen said, including fire suppression, egress to get patients out quickly in case of emergency, parking and loading docks for the military services to move equipment.

From the medical side, Kravec added, a space like the Covelli Centre is useful in treating patients who are all suffering the same disease and are at similar stages in their treatment.

“We can monitor patients in a larger setting. We’ve seen it work in other cities and that’s why the National Guard is picking this based on volume,” he said. 

Luellen did not offer details on how, if at all, patients at the field hospital would be billed. On March 25, Mercy Health announced “all COVID-19 related patient statements and billing” were suspended.

Mercy Health has also opened a 24/7 telephone hotline dedicated to public questions about COVID-19 a few weeks ago. This line is dedicated to community members who have questions related to coronavirus, are showing possible symptoms or may have had exposure to someone diagnosed with COVID-19.  The hotline number is 888 700 9011. It is for nonemergency calls. 

This Mercy Health COVID-19 hotline is part of an ongoing effort to support our community and provide information and guidance in addition to newly established flu clinics in Youngstown, Boardman and Warren. These flu clinics are designed to evaluate and treat patients with flu-like symptoms. 

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.