Ky. Guard stands up Alternate Care Facility for COVID-19 patients

More than 30 members of the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Civil Engineer Squadron set up hospital beds and clinical space at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center in Louisville, Ky., April 11, 2020. The site, which is expected to be operational April 15, will serve as an Alternate Care Facility for patients suffering from COVID-19 if area hospitals exceed available capacity. The location initially can treat up to 288 patients and is scalable to 2,000 beds. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Dale Greer)

By Dale Greer, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — More than 230 Airmen and Soldiers from the Kentucky National Guard have spent the past four days turning a cavernous exhibit hall here into an Alternate Care Facility for patients recovering from COVID-19.

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The 288-bed site, located in the South Wing of the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center, will be ready to accept patients beginning at 5 p.m. today, said Army Lt. Col. Jessicah Garrett, commander of the joint Army and Air National Guard unit that is providing clinical services. Her team of nearly 200 troops includes 82 doctors, nurses and medics who stand ready to provide around-the-clock medical care here, should area hospitals reach capacity.

The facility, which can be expanded to 2,000 beds, was designed to treat patients who are in their final days of recovery and don’t need intensive medical care, explained Garrett, commander of the Kentucky Guard’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and high-yield Explosives Enhanced Response Force Package, also known as CERFP.

Soldiers from the Kentucky Army National Guard’s 103rd Chemical Battalion set up vinyl partitions to go between hospital beds at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center in Louisville, Ky., April 14, 2020. The site, which is expected to be operational April 15, will serve as an Alternate Care Facility for patients suffering from COVID-19 if area hospitals exceed available capacity. The location initially can treat up to 288 patients and is scalable to 2,000 beds. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Dale Greer)

“These are patients who are able to walk,” Garrett said. “They can provide self-care with minimal assistance, such as go to the bathroom or take a shower, and are fairly self-sufficient.”

The Kentucky Air Guard’s Lt. Col. Kevin Howard said he expects patients to stay for no longer than seven days, at which point they would no longer test positive for the virus and will be released to go home.

“If we can take these patients here, local hospitals will have beds for the more urgent patients,” said Howard, a medical doctor for the Department of Veterans Affairs and commander of the Air Guard’s Louisville-based 123rd Medical Group Detachment 1. “So that way, our hospitals’ capabilities are available for patients that need a higher level of care.”

Howard’s staff includes a broad range of physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurses and medics who normally work in civilian hospitals and clinics when not performing military duty. Besides practitioners from the Kentucky Air Guard, the team also includes clinicians from the Kentucky Army Guard’s Shelbyville-based 1163rd Army Medical Support Co.

“The staff I have here are all excellent providers and more than capable of handling this mission and taking care of our patients in this facility,” he said, adding, “It’s an honor and privilege to be able to help.

“One of the nice things about the Guard is that we are Kentuckians helping fellow Kentuckians. That’s a unique aspect, and I know everyone is happy to be here and do what we’ve trained to do.”

Garrett agreed.

“We’re proud to come in here and help Kentuckians in any way possible,” she said. “If you talk to any Guardsman, Air or Army, they are 100 percent Team Kentucky. They want to be out in the community helping. That’s the whole reason we serve.”

Air Force Maj. Jarret Goddard — who led a team of 39 Kentucky Guardsmen that built the facility in just 2 ½ days — said he was thankful for the broad range of agencies supporting the effort.

“The design phase of this project began about a week ago in collaboration with multiple entities,” said Goddard, operations officer for the Kentucky Air Guard’s 123rd Civil Engineer Squadron. “From the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to Kentucky Emergency Management and the Kentucky Department of Public Health, it has been a real team effort.

“Being able to help our fellow citizens is a pretty rewarding thing for all of us.”

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