CORONAVIRUS

UIHC has considered using residence halls for staff housing as part of coronavirus response

University of Iowa dorm rooms, largely vacant since in-person classes were suspended, unlikely to be used for patients

Suresh Gunasekaran, CEO of University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, answers a question during a 2018 interview at UIHC
Suresh Gunasekaran, CEO of University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, answers a question during a 2018 interview at UIHC in Iowa City. Gunasekaran said the hospital is now caring for three COVID-19 patients but is considering a number of options to handle more patients.Among the ideas is to house medical and support staff in the UI’s now-vacant residence halls, should those workers be unable to go home. (The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics has talked with the UI about using residence halls — largely vacant because of the coronavirus outbreak — as part of the hospital’s response to the virus.

However, residence halls adjacent to the UIHC would more likely be used as temporary housing for hospital staffers who can’t get home than for patients, said Suresh Gunasekaran, UI Health Care CEO, in an interview Monday.

“Dormitories, by their nature, do not lend themselves well to being hospital beds,” he said.

The layout of dorm rooms isn’t ideal for patient care, and hospital staff would want to keep critically ill patients near other services, such as operating rooms or imaging equipment, Gunasekaran said.

But dorm rooms could provide a place to stay for nurses, doctors or other staff, he said.

“We’re working very creatively with our entire university community to best take advantage of resources,” he said.

Gunasekaran said the hospital was taking care of three inpatients with COVID-19 Monday, but with statewide cases spiking in recent days, leaders of the state’s largest hospital are planning for a potential influx.

Just how big the influx might be, the hospital doesn’t know and doesn’t feel comfortable sharing local estimates.

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“All of this is an imprecise science, and everyone’s trying to estimate based on other geographies — even other countries — what’s going to happen,” he said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued scenarios showing 2.4 million to 21 million people in the United States could require hospitalization for COVID-19, the New York Times reported. If everyone got sick all at once, the rush of critically ill patients would overwhelm staffed hospital beds.

But those estimates don’t account for the steps states, cities and individuals are taking to slow transmission of the virus, the Times reported.

Gunasekaran said he doesn’t think national estimates are precise enough to show how the pandemic will affect Johnson County. “I think the responsible thing to do is let the public know what the plan is when we know what we’re up against,” he said.

UIHC has 850 beds, a “substantial number” of which could be turned over to critical care patients, Gunasekaran said.

“Right now, all of our plans are to continue to use health care certified space,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that, in an absolute crisis, we wouldn’t look at other spaces.”

Gunasekaran said hospital staff would like to see the guidelines for who can be tested for coronavirus expanded so health care workers can get a better handle on how many cases may be out there. So far, the CDC has recommended testing only people showing symptoms, such as a fever, cough or difficulty breathing.

“The entire community as well as us would like to see those guidelines broadened,” Gunasekaran said. “The entire country is finding that a little bit frustrating.”

Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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