County eyes NRG Park as "last resort" hospital space

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- NRG Park could be transformed into temporary hospital space to treat COVID-19 patients, if needed, Harris County officials said Monday.

The plan is for a worst case scenario and it is one officials hope is never needed. They are considering NRG Arena, NRG Center as well as the parking lot for overflow hospital space. NRG stadium would not be used. County officials are working on a design.

"What we're trying to design is a multi-function facility where there would be space for quarantine for folks who don't have another place to quarantine," explained Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo during a news conference. "There would be space for some sort of treatment for people who don't need an ICU bed but they do need to be under observation by a nurse and then finally, and ideally, we would be able to build additional hospital capacity, additional ICU capacity."

According to the Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council (SETRAC), which coordinates emergency medical services during disaster, there are 18,300 licensed beds at 187 hospitals and specialty facilities in a 25-county southeast Texas region.

As of Sunday night, 976 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized, and 433 ventilators out of a 'strong inventory' of nearly 900 were being used, SETRAC reported.

If needed, SETRAC CEO, Darrell Pile, says hospitals have plans to rapidly add more than 4,000 beds by eliminating non-emergency admissions, utilizing area nursing homes or opening closed hospital wings or even buildings like the shuttered Kindred Hospital in the Heights. Anything at NRG, officials say, would be used as last resort.

"We want to do what we can to plan ahead," said Dr. Umair Shah, executive director of Harris County Public Health. "This is a 'plan b' but hopefully a 'plan c.'" We really want hospitals to obviously be able to surge and be able to do what they can safely in their hospitals."

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