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State emergency officials tour shuttered Memorial as possible triage site

Coronavirus

PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) – The head of Care New England said state emergency officials toured the old Memorial Hospital campus on Wednesday to explore the possibility of reopening it as a triage center if area medical centers become overwhelmed with coronavirus patients.

Dr. James Fanale said there has been no formal request by state officials stemming from their tour of the location, which closed in 2017 after years of financial losses. But he warned there are “significant challenges” to getting Memorial back up and running.

“If they need the beds, how long is it going to take to get a building that has been closed for two-and-a-half years with no water running through the pipes and no air conditioning?” Fanale told WPRI 12. “How do you get that up and running, especially with staff?”

There have been mounting calls on social media, including a funding drive, to get the shuttered hospital powered back up as concerns grow that the state may be weeks away from a surge in COVID-19 patients like the ones seen in New York, Seattle, Italy and China.

Like Fanale, state officials have downplayed the likelihood of bringing Memorial back online, suggesting it might prove difficult to reactivate the building.

“We have capacity, we have hospital beds, the hospitals are 30%, 40%, 50% empty — so I think we’re well prepared to handle any surge,” Fanale said. “That said, I think the state emergency preparedness folks have to look at all options.”

Care New England also owns Kent Hospital in Warwick and Women and Infants in Providence, as well as Butler Hospital in Providence.

Lifespan CEO Dr. Tim Babineau also said his system’s hospitals – Rhode Island, Miriam, Newport and Bradley – are operating below capacity right now.

“What’s coming down the pike is anyone’s guess,” Babineau said. “I think we are slowing the spread here in Rhode Island right now and we’re in a good place.”

As Target 12 previously reported, members of the R.I. National Guard and R.I. Emergency Management Agency have also toured the Dunkin Donuts Center, the R.I. Convention Center and the Ryan Center on the URI campus as possible large-scale temporary medical facilities.

Tim White (twhite@wpri.com) is the Target 12 investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook

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