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Military & Veterans' Issues

In Less Than A Month, A Shuttered Hospital Has Been Rebuilt To Treat COVID-19 Veterans

Photo courtesy VA North Texas Health System
Air Force Veteran Scott Wild, LVN, receives training from the COVID-19 Clinical Operations Coordinators at the new Garland facility. The refresher training was given to VA North Texas nurses who have volunteered to work with COVID-19 patients.

Just a few weeks after taking possession of a closed hospital in Garland, the Veteran Affairs North Texas Health Care System reopened the facility Monday as a COVID-19 relief center.

The 470,000 square foot facility, which closed its doors in 2018, was donated by Baylor, Scott & White in early April. It will eventually serve as an outpatient and specialty care clinic for some of the 184,000 or so DFW-area veterans enrolled in VA care. 

But for now, it will be used as an overflow center for the Dallas VA Medical Center, serving patients with less acute medical issues. 

Staffers expressed disbelief at the hospital’s quick standup, which is unprecedented for the Department of Veterans Affairs. VA maintenance and construction crews worked overtime, installing machinery and cabling, fixing sewer lines, updating restrooms, and painting and patching walls. 

“You can't imagine the amount of work — from all of the services in our North Texas VA — that it took to get all of that established,” said LaTonia Arris, deputy associate director of patient care services at the site.

Arris clarified that the newly revamped facility is only taking referrals from Dallas for now. 

“We will not accept, at this time, direct admissions,” she said. “Meaning walk-ups or people who see that we're here and want to get their care here.”

The Garland VA Medical Center’s coronavirus relief efforts are currently restricted to the Labor and Delivery wing of the former hospital. Forty-seven veteran patients can be accommodated. With the reactivation of an old inpatient wing in early May, however, that total will increase to 207 beds. 

Arris said the North Texas VA System expects coronavirus cases to peak among its patients by May 23.

“I do feel like we're able to handle the surge when it gets here,” said Arris. “We've made all of these provisions and plans to make sure that we can care for all of our veterans that come to us.”

The new medical center could be called into action as part of the VA’s fourth mission — to serve as a backup for civilian hospitals in times of crisis. On March 29, VA announced plans to open hospital beds in some states to non-veterans. 

Other hospital systems in Texas have also made efforts to expand capacity in preparation for COVID-19. Since March, Texas Military Department engineers have helped the state more than double its hospital capacity by updating and bringing older facilities back online. Bowie Central Hospital, north of Dallas, was one such facility.

Carson Frame can be reached at Carson@TPR.org and on Twitter at @carson_frame.

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