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Back in April, hospital beds were moved into the former Lowe’s building in Quonset for a field hospital for coronavirus patients. Despite rising hospitalization rates over the last few weeks, the state has decided the hospital will not be necessary.

NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Work is nearly completed stripping down a planned COVID-19 field hospital — never used — in former Lowe’s hardware store in the Quonset Business Park, state officials have told The Independent.

In just a matter of days, with a projected date of Nov. 30, the state plans to finish the dismantling of a field hospital that was never completed. Plans for it emerged months ago when fears overran state officials worried that community hospital capacities would be overrun by mounting virus surges.

Derek Gomes, spokesman for the state Department of Administration, said that better and advanced treatment of the disease in hospitals now indicates that only two field hospitals – one in Cranston and another in Providence – would be needed in worst-case scenarios.

“After consulting with the Rhode Island Department of Health and our hospital partners, the state determined a third hospital would not be necessary to accommodate an increase in patients,” he said.

“The decision was made on April 17 to cease work to convert the former Lowe’s site into an alternative hospital site. On that date, the building was 35% completed,” he added.

The site cost nearly $5.1 million for a six-month lease as well as partial construction costs until work was stopped. The state is now incurring nearly $359,000 in dismantling expenses, he said.

He said that the state will seek 75% reimbursement through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and also will use other federal funds provided to the state through the Coronavirus Relief Fund for the 25% remaining, he said.

In comparison, the Providence site carried $12.4 million in lease and construction costs while the Cranston site has $8.1 million in the same costs. All three field hospitals’ costs will also be paid through these federal funds, he said.

The former Lowe’s building was intended to accommodate up to 524 patients and had been planned to have the various kinds of medical equipment to treat patients, he said.

The state planned for three field hospitals – even though it hasn’t needed any – because “the idea back then was the situation was pretty dire. Out of a an abundance of caution, we wanted to have the capacity and able to cover overflow,” Gomes said.

Recently Gov. Gina Raimondo has again sounded the alarm bells on hospital capacity. She is preparing for operation the field hospitals established last spring – but never used – at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence and the Citizens Bank call center in Cranston.

Raimondo has given gloomy assessments recently for the state.

“Our emergency rooms are being pushed to their limits, and the pain and suffering in our hospitals and our communities is significant. Our case numbers and hospitalizations are skyrocketing, and our hospitals are near their capacity,” she said.

Recent reports have noted that since last March about 4% of the state’s population has tested positive for COVID-19 with the rate of infection about 1% overall for South County towns.

Among those who contract COVID-19, reports show that about 3% of that number have died, with the vast majority in long-term care and assisted living facilities.

The state in September said it planned to close the Convention Center and North Kingstown field hospitals, but planned to keep available the one in Cranston, which had staffing for security and officials ran various drills there to prepare for any use.

Then the state reversed course on closing the Convention Center site, but continued with dismantling the North Kingstown operation.

Brett Smiley, director of the state Department of Administration, said the state changed course due to the second wave of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.

“For the last week or so we’ve been returning the equipment, getting the beds set up again and really just getting it ready,” Smiley said.

In March, the Army Corps of Engineers and Rhode Island National Guard assessed dozens of sites across Rhode Island to determine which ones were best equipped to serve as alternative hospital sites.

DIMEO Construction Co. was awarded a $358,962 contract to decommission the North Kingstown Quonset hospital.

Bill Seymour is a freelance writer covering news and personality feature stories in Narragansett, North Kingstown and South Kingstown. He can be reached at independent.southcountylife@gmail.com.

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