Fearing another surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, crews are erecting and stocking a 25-patient medical tent in the parking lot of Los Alamitos Medical Center.

Unlike most other already-deployed mobile units around the Long Beach area, the tent will be used for patient care, not just triage.

Construction of the mobile field hospital, including electricity, running water and an HVAC system, is expected to be completed by the weekend but will only be used as a last resort should coronavirus hospitalizations continue to surge across Southern California. Hospitals across the region are bracing for a probable surge following Christmas and New Year’s Eve gatherings.

Now at 578 patients as of Monday, Long Beach-area hospitalizations have more than quadrupled since Nov. 30, with the most drastic increases occurring in mid-December—about two weeks after Thanksgiving. Hospitals across Los Angeles and Orange counties have been slammed with massive increases in hospitalizations, with many facilities struggling to keep up with demand.

Crews set up a 25-patient medical tent in the parking lot at Los Alamitos Medical Center in anticipation of a fresh surge of patients, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

Now about two weeks out from Christmas and New Year’s Eve, officials fear a fresh surge may completely overwhelm the local health system. Local hospitals are already preparing for crisis care.

“[We] continue to serve our community during these unprecedented times thanks to the commitment and dedication of our tireless nurses, physicians, respiratory therapist and support teams,” Jennifer Bayer, hospital spokeswoman, said in a statement. “We implore the public to do its part and to proactively protect themselves and others.”

The tent at Los Alamitos is designed and equipped to treat both COVID and non-COVID patients depending on need, which will be evaluated on a daily basis, Bayer said.

The expansion in patient care capacity is not the first at the Los Alamitos facility. In the spring of last year, an expansion of the emergency department was built on the ground floor of the onsite parking structure. Patients are regularly wheeled through the parking lot from medical buildings to the makeshift ER.

The parking garage extension includes 20 additional emergency department beds as needed.

Paramedics prep to leave after delivering a patient to Los Alamitos Medical Center’s makeshift emergency department expansion inside the facility’s parking structure, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

While technically in Orange County, Los Alamitos is one of five hospitals that serves the Long Beach area. It is the second facility to expand patient care capacity outside of its permanent hospital walls.

For several months, Long Beach Memorial has had medical tents onsite as an expansion of its emergency department. The space is used to triage patients and prevent the mixing of COVID and non-COVID patients. If a patient requires immediate medical attention, they may be treated in the tent prior to being admitted for an interior bed.

St. Mary, Lakewood Regional and College medical centers have smaller mobile units and pop-up tents outdoors solely for triage purposes, not patient care. All area hospitals have expanded patient capacity within existing spaces. For example, Lakewood Regional added capacity in its basement. All hospitals have also halted elective surgeries to free up beds.

The Los Alamitos field hospital was provided by the Orange County Emergency Medical Service.

“This collaboration is key in continuing to provide quality care to both COVID and non-COVID patients,” Bayer said.

Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Post and Long Beach Business Journal.