Santa Clara Valley Medical Center Inpatient Acute Nursing Executive Director Sue Kehl leads a tour of the newly renovated De Paul Health Center sub-acute care wing on Jan. 21.
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The newly renovated De Paul Health Center just opened for patient admissions in December, and the facility has already played a big part in helping Santa Clara County manage the recent surge in Covid-19 illnesses, according to county health officials.

The former hospital building on De Paul Drive in northeast Morgan Hill has not been completely renovated, but construction crews and Santa Clara Valley Medical Center staff were able to open a “non-acute care” wing that contains 36 private patient care rooms last month.

Since December, the wing has admitted more than 40 patients who have required transitional “post-acute care” treatment and recovery from a stay in intensive care units in other hospitals, according to SVCMC Executive Nurse Sue Kehl. Many of these have been Covid-19 patients transferred from other county hospitals, including some who were homeless or did not have a safe place to isolate themselves while recovering from the illness.

Some of the admitted Covid-19 patients have also been nursing home residents who couldn’t immediately be released to their previous residences due to virus outbreaks at those facilities.

Kehl, on a recent tour of the newly renovated non-acute care wing at De Paul, said the Morgan Hill facility has given SCVMC the “ability to decompress our acute care hospitals to manage the surge” of Covid-19 that began just after Thanksgiving 2020.

“This has been a phenomenal resource to help us increase our capacity in surrounding hospitals,” said Kehl, who has been the county’s clinical lead on the De Paul renovation project.

Many of the patients admitted to beds at De Paul were transferred from Saint Louise Hospital in Gilroy, which is also part of the Santa Clara Valley Medical System.

The De Paul facility was decommissioned as a hospital in 1999. It sat mostly unused and deteriorating until the county—which purchased the site when it bought SLRH in 2018—decided last year to dedicate at least $37 million to repair and upgrade the building for additional space as the coronavirus pandemic dug its heels into the region.

The non-acute care wing consists of two stories that are mirror images of each other, with 18 beds on each floor. Each room (one bed per room) is equipped with negative air pressure to keep Covid-19 particles from spreading throughout the building.

Every patient room also includes hospital grade beds, IV equipment and other medical grade equipment. There is also a patient nutrition room and automated medication administration systems.

The new De Paul patient care wing’s second story was empty last week, as the post-holiday surge of Covid-19 that resulted in a flood of patients to hospitals throughout the region, started to level off. The ground floor has remained busy.

In the long-term—perhaps after the Covid-19 pandemic is over—the county plans to use the patient care wing as a skilled nursing home and permanent sub-acute care facility, according to county hospital staff.

But that’s only one wing of the ongoing renovation of De Paul. County staff and construction contractor SBay are still working on renovating the decommissioned hospital’s emergency department as an expanded urgent care facility.

This project will include a pharmacy—capable of providing vaccinations for Covid-19 and the flu—as well as laboratory services, CT scanner, MRI machine, mammography suite, IV equipment, radiology and digital imaging.

The new urgent care facility is expected to be complete by this spring, according to county staff.

The existing urgent care center at De Paul remains open to the public while the renovation is ongoing.

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Michael Moore is an award-winning journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor for the Morgan Hill Times, Hollister Free Lance and Gilroy Dispatch since 2008. During that time, he has covered crime, breaking news, local government, education, entertainment and more.