Hospital tents arrive to accommodate GMH overflow patients

Commonly used for disaster response, the tent has capabilities similar to an expedient field hospital, including negative pressure to maintain a sanitary working environment ideal for treating COVID-19 patients. (BLU-MED photo)

Ten medical tents have just arrived on island able to care for the overflow of patients from GMH, with the hospital literally using every inch of space to care for the community.

The 10 Blu Med Tents just arrived on island this Monday after a request from GMH through the Office of Civil Defense for the additional capacity.

Jenna Blas, Office of Civil Defense acting administrator, said: “There are 10 tents in total that arrived but it is a complete structure and complete system. Right now, it has a 100-bed capacity. And each tent has a standalone air-conditioning and negative pressure system. They’re all connected by vestibules and there are provisions for different stations. So, there can be different setups and different systems; it just depends on how it’s going to be set up.”

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Blas says the tents are still clearing customs and then will go straight to the Department of Public Works warehouse until an assessment with Public Health, GMH and the State Surgeon Cell is done.

“I know there’s an immediate need with the Guam Memorial Hospital. But at this time they’re working on the assessment, on all of the different factors as far as the spacing and the personnel. It’s already been started, it’s ongoing right now. I know there’s a request for immediacy. They wanted these tents as far as the resource, they wanted it set up as soon as possible. But again, there are so many different factors involved so I know that throughout this week there will be discussions since it is clearing customs,” Blas said.

The big issue, as it is with the hospital itself, is staffing.

Lillian Perez-Posadas, GMH administrator, said: “We may need to set up the Blu Med Tents right outside of our parking. But that’s just the tent, the beds and the equipment that it comes with. It’s staffing that we need…additional staffing to man those tents.”

The GMH administrator said they’re working to recruit more off-island traveling nurses to fill the crushing demand on their facility.

So far there are 62 traveling staff on island, with more expected this week, and a request is in for 35 additional nurses from the staffing solution companies the hospital is working with.

Part of the ongoing assessment is also determining if COVID-patients would be moved to the outdoor space or if non-COVIDs would go there, leaving the bricks and mortar structure up for virus-use.

The 10 newly arrived tents, although all work together as one field hospital, can be set up separately, in different layouts to accommodate GMH’s needs.

Blas says in a hypothetical scenario, a plan for them to go up, could be approved today and the tents would be fully functional tomorrow.

“The great thing about these Blue Med Tents is they can be set up so quickly. There are some tutorials on them and they can be set up in less than half an hour so it really just depends on how quickly they can have that team and personnel on hand,” Blas said.

The tents will likely be set up on the grounds of GMH.

They cost around $900,000 to purchase and ship to Guam and were paid for using CARES Act federal funding.

The island also got 150 emergency field beds called Fast Beds at the end of September. They would be used inside the tents.

Those cost around $150,000 and arrived on island at the end of September. They were also purchased using federal dollars.

In addition to the physical bed capacity possibly coming for GMH, Blas says there’s still ongoing conversations with HHS and FEMA about bringing additional staffing to support GMH, much like the 22 DoD personnel who were here in September.

“We still have ongoing [requests]…for hospital intensivists, registered respiratory therapists, physicians, certified nursing assistants, and cardiac monitoring technicians. Again, it’s really just based on what can be fulfilled with the current contracts in place and then if there is a need to outsource further, they go through our office for the resource request with HHS and FEMA,” Blas said.

There’s no timeline on when these requests could be fulfilled. Blas just says the conversation is ongoing to ensure GMH has the resources they need.

As of Wednesday morning, GMH had 83 total patients for COVID treament. That’s up 5 from yesterday’s 78. The youngest being treated is an 11-month-old infant and the oldest is an 87-year-old.