State Designates Newton Pavilion for Shelter, Treatment of Homeless Individuals

Just days after the idea was floated in the South End Forum Opiate Working Group, the state moved fast to designate and begin working to configure the Newton Pavilion into a COVID-19 treatment and quarantine hospital for the homeless in the Mass/Cass area.

“As we continue to urge residents to stay at home, it’s vitally important to provide for the safety of individuals who don’t have a place to call home,” said Governor Charlie Baker, who announced the move on March 26. “We continue to take steps to protect the health and safety of all residents, particularly our more vulnerable residents including older adults, individuals with underlying health conditions, and individuals experiencing homelessness.”

Added Mayor Martin Walsh, “It’s critical that we continue to support our most vulnerable residents, especially our homeless population. In Boston, we are putting in place measures to protect shelter guests and prevent the virus from spreading, including new facilities for screening, testing and isolating patients, and identifying additional overnight beds in the city. The reopening of the Newton Pavilion at Boston Medical Center will be essential to relieving stress on our health care system and increasing medical care for our homeless population as we continue to respond to this public health crisis.”

The former Boston Medical Center hospital and clinic building had been sold to a developer three years ago, and then suddenly purchased by the state 18 months ago in order to transfer operations from the Shattuck Hospital in JP to a renovated Pavilion. It has been under construction for several months and was supposed to be open in early 2022, but now that will all change as it quickly becomes extension space for COVID-19 overflow.

On March 24, in a meeting of the Working Group, Moderator Steve Fox had questioned City officials and local providers about the idea of using Newton Pavilion as overflow to treat any potential surge of homeless in the area testing positive for COVID-19. Everyone pronounced that the Pavilion was on a list of many underutilized places, and Fox said it shouldn’t be a surprise if it happened.

Few knew it would happen so quickly.

So far, the infection among the homeless and addicted populations on Mass/Cass remained lower than some might have thought, with no infections by March 24. That number has risen, but is believed to be controlled with quick testing and quick isolation.

Officials said the plan to re-purpose the Pavilion temporarily is being planned and has been started under the direction of the Army Corp of Engineers and the National Guard. It will serve to address medical needs, a release said, noting no timeline for an opening.

The new facility will be operated by a consortium of providers, including Boston Medical Center, Boston Healthcare for the Homeless, shelters including the Pine Street Inn, and the City of Boston’s COVID-19 response team.

“This action is a critical protection for the health care needs of individuals experiencing  homelessness, a population at high risk for the virus that needs a place to recover safely in cases of mild illness,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders. 

The facility will be able to be used as needed for a range of care needs, potentially including treatment of homeless patients who:

•Are confirmed COVID-19 positive with mild symptoms who do not require hospitalization but do require isolation from the general population.

•Are symptomatic and awaiting test results who require isolation to avoid spreading infection to the general population.

•Post-discharge facility for COVID-19 patients who have been hospitalized but who don’t have a home to return to.

•Acute care for sicker patients, up to and including ICU care.

Capacity of the facility can grow with demand to 250 beds, marking a significant increase in clinical capacity to treat homeless individuals who contract COVID-19.

“This new facility will be a critical asset in our hospital’s and our community’s ability to care for Boston’s homeless patients affected by COVID-19 and in turn will help us prevent further spread of the virus,” said Kate Walsh, President and CEO of Boston Medical Center Health System. “We applaud and thank Governor Baker and his Administration for taking this crucial step and are grateful for the partnership of our fellow providers in this effort.”

Leaders from Pine Street Inn and Boston Health Care for the Homeless also praised the effort. 

“This is a huge step forward in ensuring that our patients and the City’s homeless community are able to get the care they will need and deserve in the weeks and months ahead,” said Barry Bock, CEO of Boston Health Care for the Homeless. “We’re ready and eager to work closely in partnership with our fellow providers to make this new facility a reality, and we’re so grateful to Governor Baker for his leadership in making this possible.”

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