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August 15, 2022

County to remodel De Paul for pandemic ‘surge’

Building in 'major disrepair' but could be useful in prolonged COVID-19 crisis

Santa Clara County officials are fast-tracking their assessment of the old De Paul Health Center hospital building in north Morgan Hill to determine if the structure can be renovated to treat and house patients during the COVID-19 public health crisis.

It remains to be seen exactly what kind of patients the building might treat in an effort to alleviate any potential regional coronavirus surge on area medical facilities. Paul Lorenz, CEO of the Santa Clara Valley Health and Hospital system, said the old hospital could be used for low-acuity patients or respite care. But the building is in “major disrepair” and needs significant work to bring it up to hospital standards that could gain approval from state and federal regulatory bodies.

“We’re strategically trying to find ways to decompress our hospitals if we have patients surging beyond our ability to serve them,” Lorenz said in an interview with the Times. “In the situation we’re in now, our interest is in how fast we can move along on that facility to prepare it…We haven’t decided what individuals we would place there. But it would be an option if the timing coincided with the trajectory of the crisis.”

Cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in Santa Clara County, the state of California and the nation. As of April 7, there were 1,224 positive cases of COVID-19 in the county, according to the public health department. Forty-two Santa Clara County residents have died from the disease.

Currently, 276 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized in Santa Clara County with COVID-19.

Santa Clara County—as the owner and operator of three hospitals and numerous clinics—has been working with private healthcare providers to develop a “surge plan” in the event of an overwhelming influx of COVID-19 patients. A key component of the county’s plan is to identify all beds in every hospital—including Kaiser, Stanford and other privately owned facilities—and determine which ones are available and which can be used to treat COVID-19 patients in isolation from uninfected patients.

De Paul Health Center, formerly the site of South County’s only hospital, factors into the local surge plan. The county purchased De Paul, located off Cochrane Road east of U.S. 101, when it bought Saint Louise Regional Hospital in Gilroy in 2018. The fleets and facilities department replaced the roof on the abandoned structure shortly after that purchase, and in recent months has successfully mitigated the building’s mold problem, Lorenz said. The damaged roof was the most immediate concern with the building’s structural integrity.

Crews have also been in the process of cleaning out old equipment from inside the De Paul hospital building, and painting the outside.

Lorenz said it’s too soon to estimate a timeline for when renovation construction can begin and how long it might take at De Paul, but crews are “trying to clean it up as quickly as we can.” He noted the building is seismically safe and “structurally sound.”

When it is complete, the idea is to finish with a facility that can serve South County for decades, and not just during the COVID-19 crisis. “We’re talking about a facility that would last much longer, like 50 years,” Lorenz said.

Other buildings on the De Paul Health Center campus house an urgent care facility, as well as numerous doctors’ offices.

Health officials strive to determine the local hospital needs in the face of COVID-19 by projecting how many locals may end up with the virus based on day-to-day “doubling times,” or the rate at which the number of positive cases doubles, Lorenz explained. As of last week, the doubling time in Santa Clara County was about seven days.

The county established a Healthcare System Surge Branch to develop its overall surge plan. The plan relies on health care employees staying healthy and having the necessary protection equipment and supplies. The plan can also shift doctors and other medical personnel to hospitals and clinics where their expertise is most needed.

Federal authorities helped the county establish the Federal Medical Station at the Santa Clara Convention Center in March. That makeshift hospital began seeing its first COVID-19 patients this week.

The county has also utilized the fairgrounds property in San Jose to house the homeless population in Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As of March 31, total capacity in Santa Clara County was 936 acute hospital beds, 92 ICU beds and 392 ventilators. The number of “surge beds” available as of April 7 was 1,432, according to the county public health website.

“The capacity of our health care system to respond to large events is expandable and elastic,” said Jennifer Tong, Hospital Surge Capacity Branch Chief of the County of Santa Clara Emergency Operations Center. “Hospitals in our area are prepared to increase the number of hospital beds available to care for those affected by COVID-19.”

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