Dr. Preyanshu Parekh, left, and medical assistant Lindsay McCann speak with an individual suffering from possible COVID-19 symptoms during a drive-thru screening at an alternate site on the campus of SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital-Janesville.

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The city is considering operating emergency medical shelters in case they’re needed to ease pressure on hospitals caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rock County hospitals don’t need help, yet, but the city is gathering resources that could be activated if needed, Janesville police Sgt. Rob Perkins said.

The first step is creating a list of people with nursing experience who would be willing to volunteer to staff shelters, Perkins said.

The city sent out a news release Wednesday asking for volunteers.

As time goes on, the city will ask for volunteers to operate other functions of the medical shelters, Perkins.

Perkins said planning for shelters is considered “a precautionary measure.”

“If it does come to it, we will have resources in place ready to go,” Perkins said.

There are still beds available at Janesville’s hospitals, Perkins said, but he did not know how many.

“We (Mercyhealth) have plenty of capacity at this time,” said Barb Bortner, vice-president at Mercyhealth in an email to The Gazette.

Mercyhealth is working with partners across the county to determine thresholds and resources needed to support the county’s health system structure, Bortner said.

Days before the call for volunteer nurses, Mercyhealth announced it placed an undisclosed number of employees on unpaid furlough.

Bortner said Mercyhealth has a pool of employees “who are already familiar with our structure and are available if a surge situation arises.”

SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital-Janesville is a 50-bed hospital committed to keeping the community safe, according to a statement from a hospital spokeswoman.

“We are currently working very closely with the Rock County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to create procedures that address needs that could arise during the COVID-19 public health emergency,” SSM Health spokeswoman Erica Mathis said in an email to The Gazette.

Mathis did not address questions on the current capacity at St. Mary’s.

Here is how medical shelters could work:

The city is considering two kinds of shelters—decompression and hospital surge, Perkins said.

A decompression shelter would be used to ease pressure on hospitals by taking in patients who need medical attention but are not in need of intensive care, freeing up space for high-risk and high-need patients.

A hospital surge shelter would be used to treat patients who need extensive medical care if there is not enough room at the hospitals, Perkins said.

These shelters would be hosted in existing buildings. The city is exploring public and private options for locations, Perkins said.

Ideal buildings would be large and come with the ability to provide medical care, food distribution, showers, kitchens, bathrooms and other amenities, Perkins said.

Existing infrastructure would reduce cost, Perkins said.

Plans to prepare emergency medical shelters have existed since the city opened its emergency operations center two weeks ago and was not influenced by any event or change, Perkins said.

Officials are researching how much protective, medical and hygiene equipment would be needed to operate a shelter, Perkins said.