As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread across the country, community members are preparing for a local influx of patients by securing extra surge capacity adjacent to Skyline Hospital.

Jim Wanner, a night shift nurse at Skyline Health, has been volunteering his free time to take the lead in building a structure made of modular scaffolding in the Skyline Health parking lot. Volunteers had set up tents in the parking lot prior to the project, but Wanner said they would not withstand the brunt of the famous Columbia Gorge winds.

Along with his community-minded spirit, Wanner brought his decades-long experience in scaffolding and carpentry and went to work designing and building the structure after it was decided the previous set up was not sufficient. Wanner said it took the all-volunteer crew just short of a month to complete. It will stay up in the parking lot for as long as the situation requires, Wanner said.

“It’s all temporary, but we’re hoping we don’t have to use it,” Wanner said.

The project was a culmination of volunteer work and in-kind donations from local businesses and community members, said Wanner. Donations of lumber from SDS Lumber Company, building materials from Ace Hardware, Tum A Lum Lumber and Margie’s Pot Shop, as well as volunteer labor from Crestline Construction and a loan of a 35-Kilowatt diesel-powered generator from Insitu, came together to form a cohesive shelter. Meadow Advertising donated a vinyl sign to cover up the plywood walls and add an aesthetic element to the structure. Standing atop the structure are the American, Mexican and Canadian flags.

Elizabeth Vaivoda, marketing/foundation director for Skyline Health, added that donations of beds, bedding, ventilators and personal protective equipment have also enhanced the hospital’s response.

“Everybody’s been really generous,” Wanner said. “The community really stepped up.”

Local resident Lloyd DeKay has been volunteering his time and energy helping to construct the shelter. He said community service can go a long way in coping with this uncertain time.

“It’s a lot better than sitting at home. I just feel good doing something about it,” DeKay said.

Wanner estimated a good 215 hours had been spent on the project. For the past month, he has divided time between his regular shifts at the hospital, working on the extra capacity shelter, and finding three or four hours a day for sleep or relaxation. From the onset of the project, Wanner recalled he felt he had to do his part, both for the safety of the community and for himself.

“I’m paranoid, I’m on the front line,” Wanner said. “Somebody’s gotta do something. You got to be ready.”

As the weather began to warm, Wanner said the project began to feel more like stress relief.

“I’d just get carried away because it’s been nice out,” he said. “It’s been a fun project, but I’m about ready to call it.”

Skyline Health CEO Robb Kimmes said the peripheral shelter will afford health officials flexibility in their decision-making regarding infections and will provide more room to separate patients expressing symptoms of COVID-19 from others.

“We weren’t really sure what was coming our way,” Kimmes said, recalling the first uncertain months of the pandemic. “We needed to be prepared for anything.”

The structure increases surge capacity from 14 patients to 32. The generator provides electricity, as well as air conditioning and heating to be brought inside the structure.

Skyline Hospital has experienced one case of COVID-19 throughout the course of the pandemic so far, according to Kimmes. According to the latest numbers from Klickitat County officials by press time, the county has seen 17 cases, two of which were identified within the west zone of the county, which includes Bingen and White Salmon.

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