College seeks to aid community with portable hospital in ice rink

MIDDLEBURY — In an effort to do its part in the coronavirus crisis, Middlebury College is removing the ice from the Kenyon Arena hockey rink so the space — if needed — can be used to deploy a “portable hospital” for COVID-19 patients.

Middlebury President Laurie Patton emphasized that there is no immediate need at this time to erect the portable hospital. The college is just making sure the space will be ready if needed. 

“In the Kenyon Arena and other parts of our athletic structure, town and college citizens come together to watch games, to share stories, and just be together,” Patton said in an email to the Independent. “This Portable Hospital plan, and the other plans we are developing to address coronavirus, are compelling new ways in which we can work together. 

“We are ‘The Town’s College,’ and are delighted to have this opportunity to help and to give back to this extraordinary community.”

Officials for Middlebury College and Porter Medical Center have been in discussions to see what the college can do to help in this health care crisis.

The college’s plans to make the 19,000-square-foot space available for emergency purposes did not arise spontaneously. In September — months before the first known case of COVID-19 was reported in Wuhan, China — Middlebury College participated in a Joint Emergency Preparedness exercise with the Vermont Department of Health (DOH) and Porter Medical Center, which involved using Kenyon Arena to house the deployment of a DOH portable hospital.

“It was really quite impressive,” Patton said.

According to Vermont Business Magazine, which reported on the preparations for that exercise in September, the DOH currently maintains two 20-bed portable hospital units for the state. The units are stored in trailers that can be towed wherever they’re needed.

“The portable hospital units, which resemble large tents from the exterior, are designed to be placed either indoors or outdoors, and do include an electric generator and a portable heating and cooling system,” the magazine reported. “Basic medical supplies such as needles, syringes, blood pressure cuffs, goggles, gowns and gloves are also provided as part of the portable hospital unit.”

They don’t come with staff.

The arena, which could accommodate up to 20 patients, will be ready in three or four days, Patton said, and would be made available to health officials only if a formal request by the DOH or Porter Medical Center.

As of press time, the Vermont Department of Health had reported a total of 18 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state. Nationwide, more than 6,000 cases have been reported, according to Johns Hopkins University, and at least 100 people in the U.S. have died from it. Global cases exceeded 200,000 this week, with more than 8,000 deaths.

On March 10, in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the college announced that it would suspend in-person classes for at least several weeks, and sent most students home. This past weekend more than 2,000 students departed from the Middlebury campus, and only about 175 remain.

Given Kenyon’s relatively remote location on the Middlebury campus — 0.7 mile southwest of the Main Quad — the college does not anticipate needing to move any students, faculty or staff out of the area in the event of an emergency deployment there.

At this time, college officials are also looking at other spaces on campus that could be used in a medial emergency, Patton said.

“Middlebury College is prepared to use its resources to help with all these needs and is now developing a joint plan with Porter and members of the (Middlebury) Select Board,” she said. “Members of the (college) Senior Leadership Group are preparing for various scenarios where the College can share its building, dining, personnel, and other infrastructure resources in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak in our community. The College’s guiding principle is to be ‘on call’ for the community and help in any way it can.”

Reach Christopher Ross at christopherr@addisonindependent.com.

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