Local colleges and universities could be used to help out overrun hospitals

Some local colleges and universities could turn into makeshift hospitals if the COVID-19 outbreak continues to grow.

SOMERVILLE, Mass. — Some local colleges and universities could turn into makeshift hospitals if the COVID-19 outbreak continues to grow. The president of Tufts University told Boston 25 News that he’s looking at his campus right now as a checkerboard to offer up as much assistance as possible in this time of crisis.

He says dorm rooms there will be made available to medical personnel potentially starting this week.

“Colleges and universities are like small cities,” said Tony Monaco, the president of Tufts.

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Monaco took a front and center role in not only offering up his campus’ space, but also mapping out ways to effectively help.

“It quickly became apparent to me, after looking at scenes from Italy with overrun hospitals, [that] we are on the same track,” he said. “We are going to get there very soon.”

This week Monaco plans to make dorms available to nurses and other health care workers.

“We have a lot of respect for risks health care workers take,” he said. “They want to minimize those risks to their families […] it’s important to offer them so we can keep that work force healthy and strong.”

Isolation units with single-use bathrooms are already in place for those who get sick. Monaco says other dorms at Tufts could also soon be open to some coronavirus patients.

“If they don’t have another place to isolate you could see us using this as a place for that,” President Monaco said.

The list of local universities publicly offering up help is growing.

Simmons, Emmanuel and Suffolk are among those willing to potentially open up dorms for hospital use.

Helen G. Drinan, the president of Simmons University, gave the following statement to Boston 25 News:

"Simmons University is committed to doing whatever we can to help our community and healthcare providers during this unprecedented time, including providing potential dorm space if needed. The hospitals in the Longwood Medical and Academic Area have been great neighbors to Simmons, and we've been in touch with many of them directly to discuss ways we might be able to help.
President Helen G. Drinan
We’re fortunate to have these outstanding partners. Our students do their clinical practicums at neighboring institutions as part of their studies and the hospitals in Boston collectively employ hundreds of our alums as nurses, physical therapists, nutritionists, and social workers -- including many right here in this neighborhood. We also share some of our campus office space with area hospitals, and will continue to collaborate with our neighbors."
President Helen G. Drinan

Harvard University also gave a statement to Boston 25 News:

Harvard is in active conversations with state and local leaders to determine ways in which the University can contribute to the COVID-19 response. The University is already working to support our neighbors in multiple ways, including through learning materials for local children, engaging members of our community who have expertise that can contribute to planning efforts by cities and states, and the provision of available personal protective equipment at the University to state emergency management authorities.
Harvard University

“I firmly believe this is a Dunkirk moment for this country and we need as many boats out there to get the hospitals across the channel,” President Monaco said. “If we don’t help them and plan now, this is going to look like Italy and there’s going to be a lot of suffering.”

Governor Charlie Baker says he and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh are having productive conversations with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about identifying, retrofitting and using college dorms, and even closed nursing homes to help out overrun hospitals.

President Monaco says he’s made state officials aware that he’s willing to help in any way he can, but would need their guidance before implementing many of his ideas.