County Sets Up Emergency Hospital at Cal Poly

Cal Poly Emergency Hospital

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

April 11, 2020

Finishing touches were being put on Monday for a 165-bed temporary hospital at Cal Poly, the result of an unprecedented partnership between SLO County, Cal Poly, local hospitals and specialty private contractors.

County officials gave reporters a tour of the “Alternate Care Site” taking over the Cal Poly Rec Center to care for COVID-19 patients, should the county’s four hospitals fill with patients.

Mark Lisa of Tenet Health Care and CEO of Twin Cities Hospital led the tour explaining that the ACS has been planned in phases that will kick in as the needs grow. In all, the ACS would have more than 900 available beds in seven different rooms, including 300 beds in Motto Gym, as a last resort.

Phase 1, a 165-bed care facility set up on indoor basketball courts, was to become operational at 8 a.m. Wednesday, April 8. The facility took about 2½ weeks to plan and 7-8 days to construct, Lisa explained.

The County Public Works Department, led by interim director John Diodatti, has led the planning and overseen construction of the ACS. Diodatti said his workdays have been from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., 7-days a week getting the ACS ready.

Walking through the cavernous building, Lisa said enclosed racquetball courts have been designated for different uses, including custodial, food service and administration.

They’ve set up “doffing” tents for health care workers to change into protective clothing.

The facility would not be an intensive care unit or be able to provide the level of care a hospital can, but would be, “for people too sick to go home or who have no other place to go,” Lisa said, so-called “sub-acute” patients.

Ty Satreno of Trust Automation explained that when they started planning, the first thing everyone said was to get the plumbing, electrical and oxygen systems off the ground.

There are two oxygen systems, the main one uses an oxygen generator, Satreno said, and a back-up system utilizes gas cylinders, with all the utilities and lines running overhead along trusses.

“Everything is designed to be very flexible,” Lisa said. Beds have been set up in 20-30-bed wards and each can be partitioned. The wards will also be divided — men on one side and women on the other side, Lisa said. A second ward — Phase 2 — will have 275 beds and should also be ready in a week or so.

Fourth District Supervisor and Vice-chairwoman, Lynn Compton, said the County has allocated $7 million to respond to the pandemic and pay for the ACS’s set up and equipment, monies they hope will be reimbursed by the federal Eme4rgency Management Agency or FEMA. Diodatti said they’d set up a committee to ensure they get reimbursed.

According to the County Health Department, as of Monday, April 6, SLO County had 95 COVID-19 cases; four people had been hospitalized, with three in ICU; 25 were recovering at home; and 65 had already recovered from the virus. There had also been one death

Lisa said all the county’s hospitals — French, Sierra Vista, Twin Cities and Arroyo Grande — still have available capacity and the Cal Poly facility would be used when if hospitals fill up.

Lisa said they were pushing to get Phases 1 and 2 ready and then would start training people to staff them. The County of SLO Medical Reserve Corps, a group of trained volunteers who assist public health efforts during times of special need or disaster, will staff the site, according to a news release from County Health.

The County is asking retired or former medical personnel — doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, medical office workers, even veterinarians and vet techs — to volunteer for the medical corps, see: if you’d like to help out.

But with the overall patients still low, is it possible the County will not need the Cal Poly ACS? Lisa said, “Yes.” The State is predicting April 26 as when California would see the peak of patients, he explained.

As a hospital CEO, Lisa said, his preference would be that they never have to use the facility. “It is possible that we could see no patients here,” Lisa said.

Michelle Shoresman, the County’s public information officer for the virus outbreak, said their philosophy is to “hope for the best and prepare for the worst. If this facility doesn’t see patents, that would be a good outcome. We’ve been blessed with the gift of time to make sure we are prepared.”

In other actions, County Health put out a list of places where people can get tested for the virus, they are: Med Stop Urgent Care 283, Madonna Rd, San Luis Obispo, (805) 549-8880; Family & Industrial Medical Center, 47 Santa Rosa St., SLO, (805) 542-9596; Dignity Health Urgent Care, Pismo Beach, 877 N. Oak Park Blvd., Pismo Beach, (805) 474-8450; Urgent Care, 5920 W. Mall, Atascadero, (805) 461-2131; Medworks Medical Centers, 350 Posada Ln., Templeton, (805) 434-3699; Primary Care Partners, 84 Santa Rosa St., SLO, (805) 591-4727; Dr. Reynaldo Cordero, 350 Posada Ln., Ste. 202, Templeton, (805) 434-3699; Urgent Care of Atascadero, 9700 El Camino Real No. 100, (805) 466-1330; Urgent Care, 2 James Way Ste. 214, Pismo Beach, (805) 295-6594; and, Urgent Care of Morro Bay, 783 Quintana Rd., (805) 771-0108.

For testing, call your health care provider. If you do not have a health care provider, call your local urgent care center. Typical symptoms of COVID-19 include high fever, cough, and shortness of breath. There is no charge for COVID-19 testing.

The County closed parking lots at all County parks, including Cayucos Beach and Pier, Hardie Park and Shamel Park in Cambria. El Chorro Regional Park is also closed. State Parks and County campgrounds are all closed at least through April 30.

County Administrative Officer Wade Horton, who has taken the lead in the County’s response, said, “Now is not the time” for tourism.

The County has designated the Los Osos Library as a safe overnight parking lot for the homeless who have vehicles. “Sites will be equipped with restrooms and some sites will have shower facilities when possible,” reads a news release from the County. “Personnel will be on site to check in families and individuals and ensure that they are in a safe environment throughout the night.”

The Sheriff’s Office announced a new feature for its “Smart911” System, to provide important health data, “to increase the awareness of 9-1-1 dispatchers to an individual’s risk level for Coronavirus,” reads another news release. It’s called the “Take Control, Let Us Know” campaign. To post a profile, go online to:

County CAO, Horton indefinitely extended the County’s shelter-at-home orders, originally started March 19. “We must slow the spread of COVID-19,” Horton said, “so we don’t overwhelm our hospitals. It’s important to remember that we are staying home to save lives.” The orders will be reviewed every 2 weeks

If you’ve got someone incarcerated at a County Jail, the Sheriff’s Office started a new email system to communicate with inmates, see: Click on “Who’s in Custody;” and use the email address provided. Follow the directions, providing the inmate’s last name, first name and inmate ID number.

And County Animal Services is suggesting people put together a “pet care plan” for their pets to include the names of people who would take care of pets if you get hospitalized; food enough for two weeks; plus vaccination records and contact information for the pet’s veterinarian. Put this kit where it can easily be found.

For updates on COVID-19 in SLO County, see: or call the Public Health Information Line at (805) 788-2903. A staffed phone assistance center at (805) 543-2444 is available 7-days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for questions about the virus.

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