By Tracy Thompson
The Times 

Former Walla Walla General Hospital is ready to take COVID-19 patients if needed

Providence Southgate Medical Park retrofitted and ready


WALLA WALLA—The Blue Valley region is fortunate to have an option for an additional temporary inpatient hospital should there be a surge in hospitalizations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Providence St. Mary Medical Center has been working 12-hour days for the past three weeks to prepare the former Walla Walla General Hospital building at 1025 S. Second Ave. in Walla Walla to receive patients. The temporary hospital is located at the Providence Southgate Medical Park and will be an extension of Providence St. Mary, used only if there are more patients who require hospitalization than Providence St. Mary can safety accommodate.

The remodeled facility likely would have 50 patients, but could accommodate up to 112 patients, in three wings, with most rooms being doubles. The Southgate temporary hospital would be used for the care of people with COVID-19 during the pandemic. Once the crisis has passed, Providence St. Mary will continue its plans for other uses for the building, including an Ambulatory Surgery Center.

On a media tour of the facility this past Friday, April 3, Susan Blackburn, Chief Executive of Providence St. Mary, Kathleen Oberlin, Director of Communications, and Dr. Christopher Hall, Chief Medical Officer, provided details about the preparations to the site that has been shuttered since July 2017.

Local contractor Jackson Contractor Group and St. Mary staff removed an estimated 240 cubic yards of debris and many loads of scrap metal from the site in preparation for this current use.

Protection zones were created by installing new walls, doors and carpeting and asbestos sub-flooring was removed from the rooms, which all received a fresh coat of paint.

Former labor and delivery rooms have been converted to a locker room for medical personnel, with showers and space to leave work shoes after their shift is completed.

A staff lounge has been created and the building’s cafeteria will be available to serve nutritious meals to both patients and staff.

A medication room, complete with an automated Pyxis dispensing system remains in place. Dr. Hall noted that the system has “a very good supply” of ventilators and IV pumps, having ordered a new supply in January. An additional 60 hospital beds, complete with mattresses, were donated to the facility by the Washington State Department of Health.

Funding for the facility was provided by a $250,000 grant from the Washington State Department of Health emergency health dollars. Local volunteers have contributed meals to the work crews doing the retrofitting and community leaders have donated money to purchase equipment.

The traditional service area for St. Mary’s services is the Walla Walla Valley, Columbia County and Oregon state’s Umatilla, Union and Wallowa counties. Hospitals from those areas transfer patients to Providence only if the patients need a higher level of care than those hospitals are able to provide.

Dr. Hall noted that over the past weeks, admissions to the hospital system have dropped, with elective surgeries postponed and trauma admission levels decreased by 50 percent.

If it becomes necessary to open the Southgate hospital during this crisis, Providence Urgent Care which is currently located in the building, may expand operations to 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to further support the effort if needed.

“Currently, Providence St. Mary still has capacity, and the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases is low,” Blackburn said. “It is our sincere hope we will never need to open the temporary hospital facilities at Southgate, but being prepared is part of our commitment to serving the health care needs of this community.”


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