Local colleges consider opening space should hospitals become overwhelmed

As coronavirus cases in New York State continue to increase—over 123,000 have been reported as of Monday morning—so too does the fear that hospitals will be unable to accommodate the volume of people who become sick. In New York City, the epicenter of the outbreak in New York State with over 67,000 confirmed cases as of Monday morning, hospitals have become overwhelmed. NYC has had to look for alternative locations to house COVID-19 patients, including at a 1,000-bed Navy hospital ship that docked in Manhattan last week. 

In preparation for the possibility that Dutchess County hospitals become overwhelmed, the County approached colleges located in Dutchess County to see if they would be available to accommodate overflow patients. 

In the event that this extra housing is necessary, Dutchess Community College’s Conklin Hall has been made available. If more space is needed, DCC’s Falcon Hall will be used, as well as locations on the Vassar College and Marist College campuses. The colleges will not house critical patients. Rather, they will serve as “recovery facilities” for those who will not be able to care for themselves at home, but do not require complete hospitalization. This will free up space in hospitals to address more critical cases. These extra spaces at the colleges will be staffed by both health care professionals and volunteers, as there will not be a need for medical expertise to care for the patients in recovery. 

Conklin Hall could be prepared to hold its first patients within the next few weeks. The space will be staffed by a variety of volunteers. Six hundred people have already applied to volunteer with the Medical Reserve Corps of Dutchess County. Across New York State, roughly 40,000 people in the medical field, including students and retirees, have volunteered their services should they become needed. 

On Thursday, March 26, Vassar College’s President Elizabeth Bradley issued an email informing students and faculty about Vassar’s plan to contribute to this countywide effort.

Through ongoing conversations with the Deputy County Executive, the College has made clear that it is standing ready to help. 

In an official statement, President Bradley communicated the importance of Vassar’s participation: “We believe that collaborative and creative resource sharing, as well as broad-scale cooperation, will be needed to meet the challenges presented to us by COVID-19 in our area, and Vassar must contribute its share.”

The College has developed a tentative plan to provide space for hospital beds should the situation in Dutchess County worsen. However, according to President Bradley, the current state of the county makes it a very remote possibility that Vassar facilities will be needed. Should the situation become severe, much more planning would take place in order to formulate a more concrete plan.

As of now, Vassar would plan to provide spaces in the Walker Field House and possibly the Alumnae House for hospital beds. These buildings are located on the edge of campus and are a substantial distance away from students, faculty, administrators and staff who remain on school grounds.

Additionally, the County asked if dorms might be used. If this were necessary, any dorm selected would be completely empty and be carefully managed to limit cross-contamination. 

Even though Vassar hopes to help support its surrounding local community, the health and safety of the College’s students and employees remains its top priority. Employees would not be expected to work in the Walker Field House or Alumnae House should they be used as extra space for hospital beds. The College would also work to ensure the area’s patient housing was contained and properly separated from students and employees.

As President Bradley asserts, “[W]e believe we can provide needed resources to our community, while still maintaining a safe environment for students and employees.”

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