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February 10, 2021

Arenas in Portland, Bangor still poised to see action as field hospitals

File Photo / James McCarthy Cross Insurance Arena in Portland could be the site of a 70-bed alternative care site if the pandemic reaches new heights in Maine.

While COVID-19 vaccination sites are trending go-to spots these days, two formerly crowded Maine venues could regain popularity if the pandemic worsens.

The state’s largest indoor stadium, the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland, this week modified plans for serving as a temporary hospital if coronavirus cases spike in Maine. In Bangor, the Cross Insurance Center is ready to fill a similar role.

In April 2020, Gov. Janet Mills tapped both facilities to serve as alternate care sites, handling overflow patient loads from the state’s health care providers if necessary. Under arrangements worked out over the summer, the MaineHealth system would run a field hospital in the Portland arena, while Northern Light Health would operate a hospital at the Bangor site.

Fortunately, Maine hasn’t had to call either plan into action. While cases of COVID-19 soared across the state last month, they haven’t overwhelmed existing medical care providers. Still, officials aren’t taking any chances.

To update arrangements for a hospital at the Cross Insurance Center, the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners on Monday approved new contracts with MaineHealth and with Global Spectrum, the Philadelphia-based company that operates the 6,200-seat center on behalf of the county.

County Manager Jim Gailey said the agreements were modified in response to input from the Federal Emergency Management Authority, which would reimburse the county and MaineHealth should the arena become an alternate care site.

The revised contracts make setting up the ACS in Portland slightly less expensive, Gailey told Mainebiz on Tuesday.

For example, the new deal reduces the rental fee for the arena from $4,000 a day to $2,500 a day. And instead of building hospital partitions inside the building with sheet rock, they would be set up with less-expensive piping and drapery.

Gailey couldn’t put a price tag on the potential savings, and because of FEMA reimbursement for the costs, it’s unlikely that any partners in the arrangement will make money on the deal.

“It’s a zero-sum game,” he said.

Plans for the ACS have been fine-tuned over the past 10 months as the course of the pandemic has changed. For example, Mills originally asked for a 100-bed hospital at the Cross Arena, but the current plan envisions 70. The number of local COVID-19 cases necessary to activate the field hospital has been slightly increased, from 130 to 140.

“At first, we were scrambling,” Gailey said. “But as time has gone on, we’ve been able to adjust the numbers.”

Preparations for an ACS are also in place at the 5,800-seat Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, There, Northern Light is already operating a vaccination clinic, but is ready to use some of the space to treat patients, a spokeswoman recently told Mainebiz.

“Part of the reason we are starting our vaccination site in the concourse area is that’s on the upper level of the building, so we can preserve the larger arena level for an alternate care site, should that become necessary and Maine CDC chooses to activate one,” Suzanne Spruce said. “This has been carefully coordinated to preserve all options. We plot multiple scenarios, so we always have a plan.”

Gailey echoed that sense of vigilance.

“A lot of people look at the [Cross Insurance Arena] and wonder why it hasn’t been used in the pandemic,” he said. “But we know that we’re a vital resource.”

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