Time for Colorado’s $100-Million-Plus COVID-19 “Insurance Policy” to Pay Up

In her Op-Ed, Time for Colorado’s $100-million-plus COVID-19 “Insurance Policy” to Pay Up, former Rocky Mountain News columnist Dahlia Weinstein sheds light on the enormous amount of our money that has and is spent on empty or closed facilities. She suggests that these funds can be better utilized to fill staffing gaps at our hospitals.

It started in April of 2020. Gov. Jared Polis approved tens of millions of dollars in federal COVID emergency relief funds to erect five Colorado “field hospitals” or “alternative care sites.” The facilities would accommodate thousands of COVID patients, who health officials projected would overwhelm hospital ICUs. Eight months later – and more than $100 million spent – not one of the five makeshift hospitals has seen a single COVID patient, and two of them are now closed.

In a May 8, 2020 article in The Colorado Sun, when talking about the empty facilities, the director of the Colorado Office of Emergency Management (OEM) and leader of coronavirus preparedness Mike Willis said, “It’s the state’s insurance policy for our health care system, and like any good insurance policy, you really hope you don’t need it.”

How much did this insurance policy cost?

The two largest facilities were built at the Colorado Convention Center and The Ranch at Loveland for approximately $71 million combined – and neither site was ever expected to handle the most serious COVID cases.

The convention center was supposed to have 2,000 beds and wound up with just 250. After a practice run in early June with a mere 200 fake patients, project leaders realized they underestimated the facility’s laundry, food, and IT infrastructure needs, so they went to Denver City Council to ask for assistance. At the time, public health models showed a likely surge could occur by the end of September, so council members approved $1,486,000 in additional funds, even though the facility still sat unused.

The Ranch at Loveland was supposed to have 1,060 beds. The number of actual beds it had is irrelevant now because OEM decided that the location was to be “deconstructed” (or demolished) back in early October. Why? At the time, Colorado had such “low testing positivity rates” for COVID. The Ranch was not considered a total waste of emergency funds because its unused medical supplies would be sent to the unused convention center for redistribution to the other three unused alternative care sites.

Those sites: St. Anthony North in Westminster, St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center in Pueblo and Western Slope Memory Care in Grand Junction, are established medical facilities prepared to handle intensive care patients, but they only have a combined total of 258 beds. And even less now because Western Slope was the other facility that was “deconstructed” by OEM.

Add to each of these sites a daily lease fee, regardless of whether the facilities at the sites are ever utilized. St. Anthony North is $7,800 a day. St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center is $12,000 a day. The Colorado Convention Center is $60,000 a day. (The convention center lease began around April 1, which adds up to about $15,300,000 and counting.)

If the cost of construction, deconstruction and leases are not enough, consider that a massive amount of additional funding will be needed for operating costs if any of these facilities ever actually opens up to accept COVID patients.

It is difficult to comprehend why so much money was spent on temporary hospitals that might never be used. The funds should have been directed to hospitals where the real emergency was already taking place, and I am not talking about increasing COVID cases.

Since the beginning of the COVID crisis, we have been warned by politicians, health officials and the mainstream media that our hospitals are near the breaking point and there are not enough ICU beds to handle a surge in COVID cases. I have been reviewing Colorado’s hospitalization data since early summer. A lack of hospital beds was never an issue, but shortages in hospital staff was a major problem from the start.

Many hospitals were understaffed prior to COVID. The remaining doctors, nurses and medical support team members are overworked, underpaid, and utterly exhausted. “Real hospitals” – not field hospitals – would benefit the most from COVID relief funds. Unfortunately, all that money was wasted on those unused facilities. Or was it?

Nearly $20 million in emergency funding was set aside to pay for contracts with medical staffing companies that would supply doctors and nurses for the temporary field hospitals. We need those doctors and nurses now.

Gov. Polis spent millions in COVID relief funds on his field hospital “insurance policy.” Now, I am filing a claim to collect. Utilize those medical contracts and fill in the staffing gaps at our hospitals. Let the emergency COVID funds finally start living up to their name. It is time to give real hospitals the relief they should have received from the start.

 

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