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Conversion of UK football practice facility to 400-bed field hospital complete for COVID-19 patients


By Kristi Willett, Steve Shaffer and Amy Jones-Timoney
University of Kentucky

The conversion of the University of Kentucky football team’s practice facility, Nutter Field House, to a 400-bed field hospital is now complete. In preparation for a potential surge in COVID-19 patients in the Commonwealth, UK HealthCare will utilize the hospital if needed.

“As the state’s largest health care provider for advanced sub-specialty and critical care, it is crucial we are prepared for any scenario to ensure that we can meet the needs of our community and the Commonwealth,” said University of Kentucky Executive Vice President for Health Affairs Dr. Mark F. Newman.

“During this unprecedented crisis, this means coordinating with state and local health care officials in an emergency preparedness plan – a plan that contemplates and prepares for the worst-case scenario … a surge in COVID-19 patients.”

The conversion of UK’s Nutter Field House to a 400-bed field hospital is now complete. (Photo by Mark Cornelison)

UK and UK HealthCare officials have been working for weeks to map scenarios to handle patient care needs across the region. That work has continued in partnership with local officials, Lexington regional hospitals, the State Health Commissioner and Gov. Andy Beshear to address how and where patients would be cared for if the number of COVID-19 patients surges in the future.

“In a few weeks, UK has a 400-bed field hospital up and ready to go,” Mayor Linda Gorton said. “We know a surge of coronavirus cases is coming and, thanks to UK, we’ve taken a huge step forward in readiness.”

State law allows for emergency purchase procedures (under KRS 45A-095) to ensure timely completion of projects such as the field hospital. Emergency Disaster Services (EDS), a Lexington-based logistic and emergency support services company, offered the best range of services that could be put in place in such a quick timeframe. EDS also has helped construct and stand up several field hospitals in other states already.

“We are extremely pleased by the efficiency in which we’ve prepared this field hospital,” said UK Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Eric N. Monday. “This is the fourth field hospital I’ve been involved in activating, including facilities in the wakes of Hurricanes Katrina and Gustav.

“By far, this process has been the most expeditious, organized, and focused on responding to the critical needs of the state. We greatly appreciate our partners who helped us get this done, ensuring UK can continue to serve and heal those who need us most during this time.”

Models of the trajectory of the virus vary regarding scope and depth of surge, Newman said. In addition, how efforts to “flatten the curve” through social distancing and other measures work will impact the need for a field hospital and other responses.

In preparation for a potential surge in COVID-19 patients, UK HealthCare will utilize the Nutter Field House hospital if needed. (Photo by Mark Cornelison)

“Preparedness is vital. Waiting until a field hospital is needed is too late,” Newman said. “If additional capacity is needed and we aren’t prepared, the effect on patients could be catastrophic.”

Training of patient care staff is expected to begin in the next few days in the fieldhouse where 125,000 square feet of flooring has been laid over the synthetic turf. Partitioned rooms and heavy-duty cots, nurses’ stations, showers and sanitization areas, and a nebulizing station to aid patients with breathing trouble are included in the facility.

“While our hopes are this facility is never needed, this would be a tremendous resource for Lexington. It has the potential to save lives when the circulation of COVID-19 is at its peak in Kentucky,” said Fayette County Commissioner of Public Health Dr. Kraig Humbaugh.

UK Athletics also played a crucial role in converting the facility on UK’s south campus near Kroger Field.

“While this crisis has been so difficult for so many, it’s been an incredible thing to see our university and state come together in the face of it,” said UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart. “For us as an athletics department, we were eager to play a small role by making Nutter Field House available for UK HealthCare to continue its work on the front lines of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our hope is that the space is never needed, but we are proud to do whatever we can to help.”

The work done over the past few weeks is a testament of people coming together in a time of crisis, Newman said.

“We have been called upon and have accepted this challenge to have facilities and people ready if needed,” he said. “We’ll be prepared for the worst and hope for the best.”

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One Comment

  1. Ken S says:

    This is a debacle. A complete waste of millions of dollars.

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