WASHINGTON — The closed Glen Mills Schools, now notorious for abusing children, could soon be turned into a federal medical station to help doctors cope with a potential regional overflow of patients caused by the coronavirus.
Timothy Boyce, the head of Delaware County’s Department of Emergency Services, said Thursday that state and federal authorities had approved the school’s conversion, and that equipment was expected to begin arriving at Glen Mills on Friday.
“There are no borders in this pandemic,” Boyce said. “Delaware County has been planning for this as a region, and we’re capable of hosting this facility. We’re not hopeful for it, but we are grateful to be able to play this role.”
Over the last few days, discussions between Boyce and his counterparts across Southeastern Pennsylvania centered on where to establish a medical shelter to help ease the burden on area hospitals.
Boyce said the shuttered school was an obvious choice: Two of its buildings are “shovel-ready,” meeting the requirements set by the federal government for space and utilities. Additionally, the nearly 800-acre school has ample room for helicopters to land, which would allow any medical shelter installed there to serve other nearby counties, including parts of the state of Delaware.
“It’s really a matter of where to place sensitive people as these cases continue to mount,” Boyce said. “And since Glen Mills is an existing facility, we’re not displacing anyone.”
The Army Corps of Engineers visited the school this week, followed by the Pennsylvania State Police and federal Department of Homeland Security, representatives of which gave the final security approval late Thursday.
Earlier in the day, a bipartisan group of local lawmakers, led by Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D., Pa.) of Delaware County, wrote to the Federal Emergency Management Agency asking for approval of the site as a federal emergency station. Joining Scanlon were Pennsylvania Democrats Sen. Bob Casey, Rep. Dwight Evans, and Rep. Madeleine Dean and Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, and Republicans Sen. Pat Toomey and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick.
“Based on the observed progression of COVID-19, we expect that hospitals in our region will require significant assistance from a Federal Medical Station in order to provide high quality care to our constituents,” the group wrote to FEMA.
The Delaware County campus, shuttered after an Inquirer investigation exposed a pattern of abuse at the once-prestigious reform academy, could be used as a medical center to host noncritical patients and free up space at medical facilities swamped by coronavirus cases, according to Scanlon’s office.
It may be used, for example, for patients who don’t have critical needs but are at critical care hospitals, or those who are stable but too ill to be discharged.
Christopher Spriggs, Glen Mills’ acting executive director, said in a statement Thursday that the school was eager to help the efforts, and committed to host the facility for as long as it’s needed.
“We have a campus that is being underutilized and want to step up and be a resource for the community as well as partner to the broader region,” Spriggs said.
The school has already been repurposed as a hub for volunteers to distribute supplies, coordinate communication and provide a place for first responders who have been exposed to the virus.