HARRISVILLE — As coronavirus spread across the United States and the case count increased, overwhelming some hospitals, Cliff Hokanson had something of a revelation.

“March 24, (I) woke up and thought, ‘We can do something to respond,’” he said.

The executive vice president of Harrisville-based HHI Corp. called together a team to look into the question of whether there was a way to help out, and the firm eventually came up with plans for a portable, easy-to-assemble hospital annex. Just nine weeks after that nighttime stroke of inspiration, the first Mobile Triage Unit, as it’s known, is complete, ready to be sent free of charge to a Florida hospital to help it contend with the influx of COVID-19 patients.

“This is the first of its kind that we know of,” said Hokanson.

The modular facility, made of five modified and interconnected shipping containers, can accommodate up to 12 patients, serving as a standalone care facility, of sorts. HHI officials put it on display Thursday on company grounds, showing it off to the media and other invited guests.

With a base cost of some $2.5 million, it’s not cheap. But company officials say it’s a big step above the other option for overwhelmed hospitals in such circumstances — tent facilities. One notable difference, among many, said HHI Communications Manager Devin Brown, is that the Mobile Triage Unit, or MTU, better prevents the spread of disease. With its airflow and air filtering systems, healthcare workers and patients are better protected from contamination.

“The airflow (in a tent) is just open. It’s spreading to any part of the tent,” Brown said.

Beyond that, the MTU can withstand hurricane-force winds and temperatures of up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, allowing for its use in a wide range of circumstances. It has its own generator and climate-control systems, so it’s basically self-sustaining, and it can be moved and assembled quickly.

“This can be deployed, put in the parking lot of a hospital in the matter of a day,” Hokanson said. Though company officials initially cite its potential role in helping contend with coronavirus patients, Hokanson also sees it as a useful tool in helping after disasters that result in multiple injuries, like hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes.

This is the second big innovation from HHI with potential ramifications in helping deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, among other disasters. The Weber County firm, which has also developed chambers used by the federal government to test the potency of poisons and chemicals, was a partner in development of a containment box designed to transport patients infected with contagious diseases. It was used in February to move 14 American coronavirus patients to the U.S. from the Diamond Princess cruise ship off the coast of Japan.

ONE MTU DONE,

TWO BEING BUILT

The MTU consists of one shipping container that serves as a nurse’s station and four more containers connected to that serving as patient rooms, each holding three patients. A fifth container houses utility equipment, while the heating and air conditioning equipment, generator and fuel containers sit on a utility skid.

The first MTU is to be donated to Global Surgical and Medical Support Group, a nonprofit, which will team with Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, Florida, in placing it there. “This system will be essential in treating COVID-19 outpatients and will help us manage patients dealing with other infectious diseases and other emergency responses in the future,” said Carlos Migoya, president of Jackson Health System, which operates the hospital.

Hokanson sees the donation of the MTU as a way for HHI to contribute to the COVID-19 response. The firm tapped experts and subcontractors across the nation in designing it.

Two more MTUs are being built at HHI, the shipping containers that will serve as the main quarters in various states of development inside a company fabricating area. Hokanson and other HHI reps are in the process of seeking out clients, but he thinks they would be potentially useful in rural areas with smaller hospitals that may be less equipped to handle COVID-19 patients. They could also be of great use in coastal areas impacted by high-casualty events like hurricanes.

Contact reporter Tim Vandenack at tvandenack@standard.net, follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/timvandenackreporter.

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