Douglas Co. Health Center updates aging air flow system after outbreak

Posted at 6:23 PM, Jul 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-09 19:23:24-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — The Douglas County Board of Commissioners was the only county in the state to receive money from the CARES Act.

Over the last month, they’ve begun to spend the $166 million allocated to them.

Some of that money is being placed into the infrastructure of the Douglas County Health Center, specifically the HVAC system, which badly needed upgrades.

The Douglas County Health Center is a last resort for many county residents with long term ailments and illnesses.

The residents stay it's an aging building with an old air flow system.

“The air handlers that are in there, they’re functioning, they’re adequate, but they’re also aged," says Jerry Leahy, director of public property for Douglas County.

“Everything was adequate until you get a pandemic that you haven’t had in 100 years."

COVID-19 hit the Douglas County Health Center especially hard. As of Thursday, 24 residents, and 19 staff members got the virus.

Six residents died. Everybody has since recovered.

“Acknowledging that a lot of these patients are vulnerable, you hit unfortunately a certain age and if you have conditions, you might not be able to fight back,” says Leahy.

Leahy immediately pushed a purchase of negative air flow machines, putting them in throughout the health center.

Commissioner Mary Ann Borgeson can’t say the old infrastructure contributed to the spread, but does say new machines slowed it down.

“I don’t know if we can go back and say that. What I can say is when we put them in place, it definitely helped the air flow within those neighborhoods,” says Borgeson.

The Douglas County Health Department agrees.

“I don’t think you can say it contributed to anything, but we certainly know it wouldn’t be as helpful as a newer system would be,” says Phil Rooney, research specialist, Douglas County Health Department.

But that was just a temporary solution. The first purchase the Douglas County Board made with their $166 million in CARES Act money was an overhaul of the HVAC system in the health center, making sure the entire building has the best air flow possible.

“Those folks are our responsibility and we should be doing everything possible to make sure that we’re providing a safe environment and this is one way to do that,” says Borgeson.

According to the law, the county must install the system by the end of the year.

It’ll be in Omaha by late fall, and they’ll quickly get it in place, to make sure they’re ready for a second wave.

“You’re going to again, need that positive air flow with that whole facility in order to keep our residents safe. Whether you have a vaccine or not,” says Borgeson.

Improving the air flow in the health center isn’t the only thing the county is doing with the CARES Act money.

They’re also adding automatic faucets, improving the whirlpool systems, and adding isolation rooms. All of this, with the hopes of containing the spread of coronavirus, or anything else that may come up.

The county also is spending over $5 million replacing the air flow system in the county jail.

The jail saw a much smaller outbreak than the health center.

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