Memphis’ COVID-19 alternate care site closed, never used

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The emergency overflow hospital for COVID-19 patients in Memphis was decommissioned without ever being used, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said Monday.

The former Commercial Appeal building at 495 Union Avenue was turned into a temporary hospital aimed to treat COVID-19 patients if additional hospital capacity was needed.

For over a year, the site never saw one patient, even as COVID-19 hospitalizations climbed across the region.

The overflow hospital added 400 hospital beds to the Memphis area during the pandemic.

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Tennessee received a Major Disaster Declaration that made federal funding available for COVID-19 response measures in April 2020.

Gov. Lee’s Unified Command Group (UCG) – Tennessee Dept. of Health, Tennessee Dept. of Military, and TEMA – worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) to begin the construction and outfitting process for alternate care sites in Memphis and Nashville.

“When early predictions pointed to a worst-case scenario of every state exceeding its COVID-19 patient capacity, we took immediate action in Tennessee to address the potential shortfall,” Gov. Bill Lee said.

The Memphis District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed the overflow hospital in downtown Memphis, while the National Guard outfitted the facility with equipment.

Work at the Memphis alternate care site was finished on June 9, 2020, with a complete renovation of a 125,000-square-foot building to make bed space available for 402 COVID-19 patients.

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“Tennessee’s alternate care sites provided our health care system with a margin of safety, and thankfully we did not need to open either site,” Lee said.

All medical equipment and supplies from both sites have been returned to TEMA’s warehouse.

TEMA staff will inventory the supplies and follow appropriate federal and state guidelines to release the supplies and equipment not remaining in inventory.

“The Memphis and Nashville sites are models of what the public and private sector can accomplish working together,” TEMA Director Patrick Sheehan said. “We’ll use this success in planning for other emergencies that may impact our health care system.”