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Field doctor busy in Mobile at Lexington, KY

In most cases, people working on a project hope that their hard work will be of use.

But for the contractors and Southcoast Health employees putting together the field hospital at UMass Dartmouth, the hope is that no one ever needs to use it.

The gymnasium at the Tripp Athletic Center on the university campus off Old Westport Road was a hub of activity on Wednesday as engineers, contractors, and other workers assembled equipment and worked to get computers and other systems up and running in the makeshift hospital space.

Under the scoreboard at the head of the gym, clinical engineers at Southcoast Health Brian Costa and Alex Silva were assembling 50-wheeled stands to monitor vitals amid piles of boxes.

“We’ve got to put everything together…It’s kind of an assembly line,” Costa said with a smile. “Hopefully we don’t need to use them all. But it’s better to be prepared.”

EKG machines and other high-tech equipment were scattered around the space next to more typical office fixtures like printers, phones, and label-makers, with low-tech handwritten signs on scrap paper indicating where equipment and stations will go.

“Right now, all we’re doing is Covid-19 projects,” said Southcoast Health PC technician Steve Amaral, who was setting up computers for more than a dozen workstations on wheels. “For the past month, it’s all we’ve been doing.”

The mobile workstations each come with a computer and can be wheeled from patient to patient to input data or access medical records. They even have a scanner for prescription barcodes.

Telecommunications contractor Michael Blythe, co-owner of CS&M Tele-systems, was hardwiring the computer network for all the hospital’s devices.

“Hopefully it doesn’t get used,” he said as he punched wires into a patch panel. “I’ve set up far too many of these things as of late.”

His company has helped set up new networks in several area nursing homes during the pandemic, he said, adding, “It’s not fun.”

Mark Tatlow of Sagamore Plumbing in Hingham was checking the newly-installed copper oxygen lines, while workers from Emergency Disaster Services of Kentucky delivered and unwrapped mobile air conditioning units.

EDS had also provided a mobile unit with showers and sinks outside behind the athletic center, and a variety of mobile restroom units stood nearby.

In one corner, Southcoast Health engineer Bob Harbick connected a portable X-ray machine to the wireless network, pumping his fist when the machine connected successfully. “It’s working now!” he said with a smile. “So this one is ready for use.”

“Chest X-rays are very very useful, especially for Covid-19,” he noted. “Because what they’re saying is that if you’ve got Covid-19 infiltration into your lungs, it resembles a broken glass pane. It kind of crackles all over the place…They see the evidence very clearly.”

Although there were moments of levity, everyone was pulling together to get everything up and running as quickly as possible.

“We’ve got to get it done by Sunday night,” said Costa. “We’re getting there, little by little.”

“Every day there’s new stuff being installed,” noted UMass Dartmouth spokesman Ryan Merrill, who was watching the action on the floor.

But even after all their hard work, everyone in the building said they would rather their efforts go to waste.

Tatlow echoed the sentiments of everyone working in and around the building. “We’re hoping it doesn’t have to get used,” he said. “Fingers crossed.”