As work continues to convert TCF Center into hospital, questions of staffing loom

Posted at 12:27 PM, Apr 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-03 15:37:07-04

DETROIT (WXYZ) — Work to transform the TCF Convention Center into the largest alternative hospital in the state is underway; what would have been home to the North American International Auto Show in June, will soon have the capacity to treat nearly 1,000 COVID-19 patients.

The project is being funded by FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing the work to transform the space.

The hope is that the site could welcome patients by April 9.

However, many are still wondering, who is going to staff this field hospital?

“I have no idea frankly where they’re going to get the staff from," said Dr. Nicholas Gilpin, System Medical Director for Infection Prevention at Beaumont Health.

Dr. Gilpin said his facilities are already dealing with staff shortages due to COVID-19, and healthcare workers within Beaumont still need more protective gear.

Additional N95 masks, face shields, gowns, and gloves is something Gov. Whitmer has said the state is focused on securing, having spent millions and pledged millions more to do so.

“I don’t think I can spare virtually a single body at this point. It’s really all hands on deck. Each and every day we have healthcare providers who are getting sick. They’re working much longer hours than what they’re used to," Dr. Gilpin said.

He told Action News other metro Detroit health systems are likely facing the same problems; Detroit being one of the hardest hit cities in the nation with COVID-19.

Dr.Gilpin supports the idea of alternative care sites, as Michigan prepares for yet another massive surge in COVID-19 cases in the moving days, and possibly weeks; he just doesn't know how those sites are going to get the necessary staff and equipment.

The week, Michigan's Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun along with Gov. Whitmer, put out the call for volunteers.

“We will likely need additional facilities. We will also need additional medical professionals — doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, physician assistants, and others to staff them," Dr. Khaldun said.

There's also already been a call put out for nurses across the state to help fill the gaps within the Ascension health system in metro Detroit, said the president of the Michigan Nurses Association, Jamie Brown.

“However we’re only being offered $2 more an hour to go and put our life at risk. And no guarantee of the PPE. But they will pay for food, housing, and gas though," Brown said.

She said at this point, it's on a volunteer basis.

Dr. Gilpin is hopeful health systems and hospitals in other parts of the state, like further north, will step in to help harder hit areas in the midst of this health crisis.

“This idea that on a micro level, we can balance the load within our state in terms of equipment and staff and resources would be a tremendous help," he said.

We've reached out to Governor Whitmer's office for additional information on specific plans for staffing at the TCF field hospital and are waiting to hear back.

Henry Ford Health System added in a statement, "Information about how FEMA is staffing TCF should come from FEMA. We wouldn't want to speak for them. We, like all other hospital systems in the area, are consistently adjusting front-line staffing at our own hospitals and are not able at this time to provide front-line workers for the TCF facility."

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