UNH Readies Rec Center for Hospital Overflow

Andy Berg Headshot

For the University of New Hampshire, COVID-19 wasn’t a surprise. After H1N1 swept across the globe in 2009, UNH started preparing for what the world is currently experiencing.

After H1N1 had subsided, campus police chief Paul Dean coordinated with the school’s university emergency group. Together they began stockpiling equipment, such as gloves, surgical masks and N-95 respirators for those who might have to deal with something worse than H1N1 in the future. 

“We knew it wasn’t a question of ‘if’ but rather of ‘when,’” Dean said in a post on the UNH website.

In response to COVID-19, UNH was ready to go. The school is now turning the Hamel Rec Center into an overflow facility, where patients who have been discharged from the hospital but are not ready to return home can recover.

"The turnaround time was from March 22, when I learned about the potential for hosting this, to March 27 when it was completed," says Stacey Hall, executive director of student engagement and development at UNH. 

Under the direction of the New Hampshire National Guard, UNH has set up cots and care stations on the Hamel Rec basketball courts for up to 250 patients. Volunteer caregivers are currently being enlisted to help. The facility is strictly for patients transferred from area hospitals and will not be open to the general public.

UNH has also helped its community with supplies. In addition to its existing stockpile, various departments on campus contributed what they had. In all, UNH has collected 45,000 pairs of gloves, 11,000 surgical masks, 4,800 N-95 respirators, 216 protective gowns and 38 Tyvek suits. All of it is being distributed to local hospitals and care facilities. 

But the UNH team hasn’t stopped there. The school’s Entrepreneurship Center (ECenter), the UNHInnovation ECenter Makerspace and other university facilities are now using 3D printers to print head bands for protective face shields that are being manufactured by the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.  

“What we’ve been doing is nothing short of the true essence of this community, supporting everyone from students to faculty, staff and alumni to state and local residents," Dean said. "I can’t think of anything better I can be doing as a police chief than the work we’re undertaking right now.”

Stacey Hall, UNH executive director of Student Engagement and Development, will join the AB Podcast next week to talk about her team's effort to turn the Hamel Rec Center into a hospital overflow care facility. 

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