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Fairview Developmental Center prepares to house overflow hospital patients amid coronavirus surge

The Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa previously housed adults with developmental and behavioral disabilities.
(File Photo)

The state has selected the Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa to house regional overflow hospital patients in the expected case that area hospitals fill with coronavirus patients in coming weeks.

Fairview will have 900 beds for people from across Orange County who are not infected with the coronavirus but need other care, Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley said Wednesday during a town hall meeting livestreamed on Facebook. An additional 200 beds will be set aside for people with developmental disabilities.

The facility is expected to come online in mid- to late April, according to a statement from the office of state Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach).

“The Fairview Developmental Center will provide critical surge capacity in Orange County in order to decompress local hospitals and save lives,” Petrie-Norris said.

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While area hospitals have reduced the number of elective surgeries and procedures, hospitals countywide are at about 64% capacity, Foley said.

The Army Corps of Engineers assessed Fairview last week as one of eight sites in Southern California under consideration as backup locations.

“With any luck, we will slow down the [coronavirus spread] so that our system can meet the need,” said David Souleles, deputy agency director for the county’s public health services. “But that depends on all of you, every resident of Orange County, following the words that have been said many times: Stay home unless it’s for an essential service.”

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For years, Fairview, a state-owned facility on 114 acres in the heart of Costa Mesa, housed adults with developmental and behavioral disabilities. At its peak in 1967, Fairview was home to 2,700 residents.

Also last week, Orange County Health Care Agency representatives toured the OC Fair & Event Center in Costa Mesa to assess the fairgrounds’ infrastructure, power, heating and cooling systems, restroom accessibility and more for potential use as a site to house hospital patients.

“Based on the initial assessment, medical and nursing experts felt the site could best be used to support less ill patients, who would still require hospitalization,” according to an email from a county Emergency Operations Center representative.

Though the timeline is unclear, the next steps are to “form and evaluate a plan, evaluate our resources that are available and evaluate whom we can partner with to bring any plan into fruition,” the email stated.

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Gov. Gavin Newsom said last week that an expected surge in coronavirus cases in the next couple of weeks could require 50,000 hospital beds. The state has been identifying alternative locations to serve as temporary hospitals.

Of the 606 coronavirus cases in Orange County to date, 67 are hospitalized, including 31 in intensive care, according to the Health Care Agency. Ten people have died.

The prospect of activating Fairview as an alternative hospital site comes a little more than a month after Costa Mesa in February won a temporary restraining order against federal and state agencies over the possibility of sending coronavirus patients being housed at Travis Air Force Base in Northern California to Costa Mesa.

At the time, the idea was met with an uproar from local residents and officials. In a rapid series of court actions, news conferences and other statements, city leaders argued that Fairview was ill-suited for coronavirus patients and that city and county officials had been blindsided by the plan.

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Federal and state agents blasted the city for obstructing their efforts during what was then early signs of the burgeoning health crisis. After a tumultuous week, during which Orange County declared a local emergency, federal officials announced they were withdrawing their proposal.

In 2018, state leaders suggested the possibility of repurposing Fairview as an emergency homeless shelter — much to the chagrin of locals.

Last year, Newsom included in his budget plan a $2.2-million evaluation of Fairview to explore housing options for homeless people. That possibility remains on the table, though the need for extra hospital beds to help during the coronavirus crisis has eclipsed it for now.

In January, Newsom directed officials to evaluate several state-owned properties, including fairgrounds, as potential sites for emergency homeless shelters. The OC Fair & Event Center was later eliminated as a possibility.

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Daily Pilot City Editor Rob Vardon contributed to this report.


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