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Dartmouth College gym prepared for COVID-19 hospital overflow

  • Spc. Kali Dwyer, of the New Hampshire National Guard, right, and Hanover Firefighter Ebben Whitehair, left, set up cots, screens and bedding in Dartmouth College’s Alumni Gym in Hanover, N.H., Friday, April 10, 2020, to accommodate a potential surge of COVID-19 patients. Firefighter, National Guard members and emergency planners prepared 102 beds in the facility. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • Lebanon Assistant Fire Chief Jeff Libbey, right, steadies a box of cots being moved into Dartmouth College’s Alumni Gym in Hanover, N.H., to create an “Alternate Care Site” in the event of a surge of COVID-19 patients Friday, April 10, 2020. The cots and supplies for the makeshift hospital came from three public health storage trailers kept in separate locations around the Upper Valley. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • Rep. Sharon Nordgren, D-Hanover, thanks members of the New Hampshire National Guard and Upper Valley emergency management officials as they take a lunch break from setting up a temporary hospital for COVID-19 patients on the Dartmouth College campus in Hanover, N.H., Friday, April 10, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • Kirsten Vigneault, director of community health emergency preparedness for the Greater Sullivan County Public Health Network, right, and Staff Sgt. Tyler Stewart, of the New Hampshire National Guard, left, set up cots to prepare for a potential surge of COVID-19 patients at Dartmouth College’s Alumni Gym in Hanover, N.H., Friday, April 10, 2020. “You make the plans and work with your partners, and hope you’ll never have to use them,” Vigneault said of her work. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • Dr. Tim Burdick, of Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s department of community and family medicine, left, and Tom Schutzius, Dartmouth College’s camups emergency manager, right, talk during a lunch break at a workspace near Alumni Gym in Hanover, N.H., while helping prepare an “Alternate Care Site” to serve COVID-19 patients in the event of a surge Friday, April 10, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/10/2020 9:34:31 PM
Modified: 4/10/2020 9:34:15 PM

HANOVER — While officials are hoping it never gets used, the Upper Valley now has a site set up in the event that a surge of COVID-19 patients overwhelm the region’s hospitals.

Area volunteers joined members of the New Hampshire National Guard on Friday to set up 105 cots in Dartmouth College’s West Gym.

The site on East Wheelock Street is one of 14 alternative care sites being established throughout the Granite State.

The gymnasium has been prepped to the point where, if necessary, it could be made ready for patients within 72 hours, said Lebanon Fire Chief Chris Christopoulos, who has been coordinating the regional response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Officials also could increase the number of beds on site, “if we had to,” he said.

Though similar staging is happening in gyms and other sites across the state, officials said they are hopeful that they won’t be needed.

“I’m hoping this becomes an exercise for us, or a drill,” Christopoulos said.

If the surge beds are needed, medical staff from Dartmouth-Hitchcock as well as volunteers from the community, Geisel School of Medicine and area nursing students will provide care for patients who are recovering from COVID-19 or other illnesses, Christopoulos said.

So far more than 100 volunteers in the Upper Valley have signed up through an online registration system called NH Responds, he said.

“We’re really grateful for the number of retired practitioners who have volunteered to staff an (alternative care site) if we need to open it,” Hanover Town Manager Julia Griffin said.

Like Christopoulos, Griffin said she hopes the Hanover site wouldn’t need to be used.

But she said that since the virus that causes COVID-19 is new, it is difficult to predict what the future demands on the region’s health system will be.

“We plan for the worst and then just pray that we don’t need to do it,” she said.

West Gym would serve patients who are transferred from area hospitals, including those in the Dartmouth-Hitchcock system, which in the Upper Valley includes Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital in Lebanon, New London Hospital, and Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center in Windsor.

The surge site also is meant to support Springfield (Vt.) Hospital and Valley Regional Hospital in Claremont, which are not members of the D-H system, Christopoulos said.

Vermont officials have said that state’s surge plan includes providing a trailer with materials for an additional 50 beds to Mt. Ascutney.

The patients treated in West Gym would be medically stable, but in need of a few more days of care before going home, said Dr. Tim Burdick, the ACS’ medical director. Moving them would free up beds at area hospitals for treating sicker patients.

The gym will be equipped to provide some low-concentration oxygen for patients who need it, as well as medications typically administered in a hospital such as intravenous antibiotics, said Burdick, who practices family medicine at Dartmouth-Hitchcock.

“We may never need to use the ACS for this pandemic,” Burdick said in an email. “We set up in case we do, hoping it never sees a single patient. At the very least, it is a great planning activity that increases our preparedness for any future event.”

Before care of any kind could be provided in the Dartmouth gym, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu would need to issue a declaration opening up such facilities, Christopoulos said.

The state also needs to finalize a memorandum of understanding with host sites such as Dartmouth.

Sununu, in a Friday news conference, said municipalities and site hosts will not be on the hook for costs associated with alternative care sites.

The bulk of the funding, 75%, is expected to come through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, with the remainder coming from the state and hospitals, Sununu said.

Sununu said he didn’t expect the costs to the state to be high. Such spending would go to support ancillary services such as food and Wi-Fi for internet access, he said.

Though there are some restrooms and showers on site, additional portable toilets and hand-washing stations will be needed to make the West Gym site operational, Christopoulos said.

Sununu, on Thursday, issued an executive order requiring insurance companies to reimburse hospitals for the care provided at surge sites.

It’s unclear how long the cots will remain in West Gym, which is in Dartmouth’s Alumni Gymnasium building. Griffin said it’s something that will be evaluated on a weekly basis.

Elsewhere in the Upper Valley, Woodsville’s Cottage Hospital also is prepared to expand from its licensed number of 35 beds to 80 should a surge require it, CEO Maria Ryan said in a Friday email.

The small hospital is well-stocked with personal protective equipment, stretchers and intravenous fluids because Ryan said she built up a stockpile following the H1N1 pandemic 10 years ago.

But, she said, she doesn’t think the extra beds and supplies will be needed.

“Thankfully the models are all overstated and grossly inaccurate,” Ryan said.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at or 603-727-3213.

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