The gym could accommodate about a hundred patients if DHMC needed overflow space.
West Gym has been equipped with 102 cots capable of holding Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center patients needing low-intensity care, in the event that the hospital needs to make more room for critically ill patients if there is a surge in COVID-19 cases.
"Everyone's hoping that our social distancing efforts are working and that this space won't be needed, but we are preparing it just in case," says Josh Keniston, vice president for institutional projects and co-chair of Dartmouth's COVID-19 Task Force.
To equip the space and plan for its possible use, Dartmouth administrators are working closely with D-H personnel, the regional Multi-Agency Coordinating Entity (MACE), and members of the New Hampshire National Guard, who moved cots into the gym on Friday. MACE manager Chris Christopolous, fire department chief in Lebanon, N.H., says medical equipment will not be added until the need is imminent.
"There is some belief that the hospital system in larger population areas in southern Hampshire may become overwhelmed with the surge and that may push north and east and west," says Christopolous. "So it's not inconceivable for the hospitals here to start seeing a lot more patients, even if not necessarily from our region, which also encompasses a very large area of Vermont. We want to be prepared so that if it does happen, it will be a very low lift for us to basically go operational with the facility Dartmouth has provided."
Leverone Field House was on the list of alternative sites under consideration, says Thomas Schutzius, campus emergency manager in the Office of Safety and Security. West Gym, which is part of Alumni Gym, was chosen because it has more bathrooms and more versatile multi-purpose spaces. Schutzius says steps have been taken to make sure the gymnasium floors will not be damaged by its temporary re-use.
"Everyone—MACE, D-H, the College, and the National Guard—has worked really well together, not only on this plan, but on other contingencies that will get us through this pandemic," says Schutzius.
In addition to the work to transform the gym, physician Lisa Adams, co-chair of the COVID-19 Task Force, says each individual in the Upper Valley can take steps to make it less likely that the alternative medical site will have to be used.
"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain," says Adams, who is associate dean for global health and an associate professor of medicine at the Geisel School of Medicine.
"Recent studies have shown that a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus lack symptoms and even those who eventually develop symptoms can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms. A face covering does not protect the wearer but protects those with whom they may need to temporarily come into close contact," she says.
Dartmouth has a supply of non-medical masks and is distributing them to the employees on campus who are providing service and interacting with people. "And it is important to remember that face coverings do not replace the need for careful hygiene, social distancing, and avoiding groups of people," Adams says.
Dartmouth officials say they will inform the community if West Gym is used to house patients.
For the latest information on Dartmouth's response to the pandemic visit the COVID-19 website.