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University Hospitals converts Saint John School in Ashtabula into 'alternate care center'

The building is ready to treat patients at a moment's notice.
Credit: Saint John School

ASHTABULA, Ohio — University Hospitals is taking steps to increase its capacities as Ohio approaches its expected peak in the coronavirus pandemic, and on Wednesday the system announced it had converted Saint John School in Ashtabula into Northeast Ohio's first "alternative care center."

The Catholic high school, which like all similar buildings in the state is currently closed to students in an effort to promote social distancing, would be used as an extension of UH's facilities in Conneaut and Geneva. Should the number of COVID-19 patients at those hospitals reach peak capacity, the temporary facility would provide those who do not have the virus but still need to see a doctor with "the medical care they need."

Steve Jones, President of UH Community Hospitals East Region, released the following statement:

"At this time, we anticipate adequate capacity at UH Conneaut and Geneva Medical Centers, but are extremely fortunate that Saint John School has committed their support in the event of a surge in patient volume so we can continue to meet the health care needs of all of our patients. The alternate care facility at Saint John School provides a welcome extension of our foundation in the community during the COVID-19 pandemic."

Officials such as Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio Health Department of Health Director Amy Acton have lauded state residents for their successful efforts to "flatten the curve," but earlier models projected a peak of roughly 10,000 new coronavirus cases per day even with social distancing. With that in mind, DeWine and health care experts across Ohio began to make plans to at least double (and perhaps triple) the state's hospital capacity.

However, with social distancing continuing to show success, the latest numbers released Wednesday project a state peak of just 1,600 new cases per day. While the models can be fluid and Dr. Acton has cautioned we won't truly know what the numbers are until the peak actually comes, the decrease would be a huge relief to Ohio's health care system.

Despite the progress, state leaders are stressing the battle is far from over, and that citizens must continue to practice social distancing until the number of cases truly begins to subside. Although the alternative hospitals may not be needed, Saint John remains on stand by and ready to go at a moment's notice.

"We are proud to stand beside University Hospitals in service to the families of our community during this pandemic," Sister Maureen Burke, SND, President of Saint John School, said. :When it has come to an end, we will be ready to welcome our students, staff and faculty back into our fully sanitized, state-of-the-art educational facility."

Saint John is one of the smallest co-ed high schools in the state, with a total enrollment of around 400. Its biggest claim to fame is likely its most famous alumnus: Former Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer, who played for the Fighting Heralds and graduated in 1982.

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