By Jeff Todd

DENVER (CBS4) – Colorado officials are working to set up alternative care facilities across the state in the event hospitals see a surge of coronavirus patients. Construction will begin Friday at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver and The Ranch in Larimer County.

Colorado Convention Center (credit: CBS)

The Colorado state Unified Command Center worked with the Colorado Hospital Association, local communities and the US Army Corps of Engineers to select and prepare alternative care sites throughout the State.

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The state has signed leases at the Colorado Convention Center and The Ranch – Larimer County Fairgrounds and Events Complex in Loveland. Officials said the alternative care sites serve as medical shelters and are not field hospitals.

The Army Corps of Engineers will begin construction Friday to retro-fit the facilities to serve as Tier 3 medical shelters. Tier-3 care facilities will have resources and staff capable of caring for patients who are recovering from COVID-19 who no longer need a critical or acute level of care.

The facilities will only accept patients who are being transferred from hospitals and health care facilities. The sites will not be open for members of the public seeking medical care or diagnosis.

Colorado has also signed letters of intent with St. Anthony North in Westminster, St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center in Pueblo, and Western Slope Memory Care in Grand Junction, to serve as alternative care sites. The UCC plans to finalize leases with the three sites by the end of this week, and is working to secure additional facilities.

The Denver Convention Center has the capacity to house 2,000 beds. The state plans to finish construction at the facility by April 27. The Ranch will house up to 1,060 beds with construction expected to be complete by April 29 .

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How the medical surge system works:

1.    Individuals showing signs of illness should seek guidance by calling their primary care physician, a nurse care line or community health center.  If an individual is having difficulty breathing, and they suspect COVID-19, they should seek urgent care at a hospital-based emergency department. Triage will determine which care setting is appropriate.

2.    Patients with critical needs are admitted into a critical care setting (ICU or medical nursing unit) – this is considered Tier 1 care.

3.    As patients within a hospital recover, they may be transferred by a fleet of state-managed ambulances to an ambulatory surgical center, free-standing emergency department, or critical access hospital — all which can provide acute care to COVID-19 patients whose needs fall below critical care. This is considered Tier 2 care. A state dispatch center will manage these patient transfers among facilities.

4.    As further recovery ensues, healing patients may be transferred by the state-managed ambulance fleet to alternative care sites that have been created by the state, by hospitals and/or by state/local partnerships with public health and emergency management. This is considered Tier 3 care. Alternative Care Sites are medical shelters. They are not hospitals.

5.    Patients who are ready to return home but who can’t because of extenuating circumstances or because they need to quarantine in order to protect others, may be transferred by non-EMS to a hotel that has been converted to a medical shelter. This is Tier 4 care.

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Jeff Todd