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Renown Reopens Emergency COVID-19 Care Facility In Parking Garage

Update, published Friday, Nov. 13, at 5:52 p.m. PT.

Several COVID-19 patients are already receiving treatment at the Renown alternative care site located in the hospital’s parking garage. Amid the surge in cases, the site opened up earlier this week to keep hospital beds available for other medical emergencies.

There are currently three patients being cared for in the parking garage care site, and Renown officials expect to have a total of five by the end of Friday.

The site is designated for adult COVID-19 patients with mild to moderate symptoms. 

The head of Renown, Dr. Tony Slonim, said the new facility will help keep hospital beds available for non-COVID-19 patients.

“There are lots of other health and health care conditions that affect our community, and just because we’re open for operations as it relates to supporting the community through COVID, people will still continue to have problems with their heart. They’ll get sick with lung disease and infections from other viruses like influenza and other problems. They will still, unfortunately, get into car accidents or perhaps have falls,” Slonim said.

And that’s while Renown continues to see increases in the volume of hospital visits, as COVID-19 is on the rise. Over 100 patients are currently hospitalized at Renown hospitals in Washoe County, and there are 26 in the ICU.

Overall in the county, hospitals are getting closer to capacity. About 85% of staffed hospital beds are occupied. Even though hospitals aren’t currently at full capacity, Slonim says the hospitals need to keep beds open for non-COVID-19 emergencies.  

Original story, published Friday, Nov. 13, at 12:15 p.m. PT.

Amid a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Washoe County, Renown has set up two additional facilities in downtown Reno, where health providers will provide care there.

Normally, at the entrance of where people typically enter the emergency room at Renown in downtown Reno, there will be an alternative care site to help screen patients for COVID-19.

Erik Swanson is an emergency room clinical nurse supervisor at Renown.

“It'll be 10 patient care, I want to call them beds, they’re going to be recliners with [a] bedside table separated by curtains to have some privacy,” Swanson said.

Swanson gave a tour of the empty tent outside of the emergency department Wednesday. It was still under construction and is one of the additional sites set up to accommodate the spike of COVID-19 cases. Its purpose: screening patients for COVID-19 upon arrival with the goal of limiting exposure to other hospital patients and health care workers.

The alternate care site had been up and running earlier in the pandemic but was eventually taken down as the need diminished at the start of June.

Swanson said medical staff will once again be able to screen patients to determine the care they need.

In Washoe County, people with the highest COVID-19 rates are those between 20 and 29, followed by those between 30 and 39, but Swanson said those cases aren’t always severe.

A man in purple scrubs and a pale yellow surgical mask looks at the camera. He is inside of an industrial dome-shaped tent with white tarp walls.
Credit Lucia Starbuck / KUNR Public Radio
KUNR Public Radio
Erik Swanson, an ER clinical nurse supervisor at Renown, inside the COVID-19 screening tent outside of Renown Regional Medical Center’s emergency department in Reno, Nev., on Wednesday, Nov. 11.

“The majority, we see lots of people that [are] 20- and 30-year-olds, that are coming in with fevers and cough, and need to get screened and need medical assistance, but they don’t necessarily need all the comforts and resources we have in the main part of the ED [Emergency Department],” Swanson said.

But Swanson said he’s also been treating people with more severe cases of COVID-19, and it’s tough for him to hear that some people aren’t taking the pandemic seriously. For example, those that believe COVID-19 is a hoax or that it’s not a big deal.

“I can tell you firsthand. I mean, we see these people all day. I think it’s disheartening when that message gets out into the community because us here in the hospital, and health care in general, we see it. We know it’s real. We see people that are otherwise healthy that are ending up in intensive care units,” Swanson said.

As Renown is seeing more patients hospitalized for COVID-19, officials are looking to increase capacity. The second makeshift facility is adjacent to this COVID-19 screening tent and is Renown’s parking garage. Now, it’s been transformed into an emergency care site.

On one floor of the parking garage, hospital beds covered in plastic are lined in parking spots, along with other medical necessities like rows of oxygen tanks and shelves of personal protective equipment (PPE). There are also reminders that this makeshift care site is a parking garage, like the big purple letter on the wall to indicate where people would have parked. This particular level has enough beds for about 700 patients, and there is another floor that can accommodate about the same. That’s according to Dr. Paul Sierzenski, the chief medical officer for the acute care division.

A man in a white suit with a purple tie and purple mask that says, “Fight the good fight. Renown,” on it looks at the camera. Behind him is a plastic-wrapped hospital bed.
Credit Lucia Starbuck / KUNR Public Radio
KUNR Public Radio
Dr. Paul Sierzenski, the chief medical officer for the acute care division, inside of Renown Regional Medical Center’s parking garage, which has been transformed into an emergency COVID-19 care facility in Reno, Nev., on Wednesday, Nov. 11.

“This space was designed primarily for COVID patients or recovering COVID patients,” Sierzenski said.

The parking garage care site was set up in early April in the event hospitals became overwhelmed, but that didn’t happen.

What’s different now is Washoe has been seeing record-breaking daily COVID-19 cases. As of Wednesday, about 84% of staffed hospital beds are occupied in the county.

At a press conference with Governor Steve Sisolak earlier this week, the head of Renown said there could be a need to treat patients in the parking garage within a week if COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to increase. Sierzenski said the need for these additional hospital beds depends on how COVID-19 infections continue in the community.

“If we’re at a point where we’re considering whether we need to activate the site, it’s because we’re seeing a significant surge in positive cases, as well as hospitalizations. What we’re doing is asking the public to assist us in clamping down that curve,” Sierzenski said.

The governor recently implemented “Stay at Home 2.0” and implored Nevadans to only leave the house for essential needs for two weeks. But he’s reluctant to implement any shutdowns for now and instead is asking individuals and businesses to be more vigilant.

Lucia Starbuck is a corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project.

Lucia Starbuck is an award-winning political journalist and the host of KUNR’s monthly show Purple Politics Nevada. She is passionate about reporting during election season, attending community events, and talking to people about the issues that matter most to them.
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