New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell announced today that two shuttered nursing homes in the city are now being converted into regional care centers for those recovering from COVID-19.

The two facilities are slated to open the week of April 13 and will add 230 beds to the region's healthcare capacity, Mitchell told reporters while flanked by Southcoast Health CEO Keith Hovan, Fall River Mayor Paul Coogan, and other partners in the public-private venture.

"This will make it a lot safer for all of us here in Southeastern Massachusetts," said Mitchell.

The city is leasing the facilities, located at 1123 Rockdale Ave. and 4568 Acushnet Ave., from owner Skyline Health. The centers will be operated by Essex Group Management's non-profit Buttonwood Healthcare, while Southcoast Health will serve as the medical and clinical lead.

Mary Serreze/Townsquare Media
Mary Serreze/Townsquare Media

The so-called Southeastern Massachusetts Regional Care Centers will serve primarily as recovery centers for coronavirus patients who no longer need hospitalization. In a separate area, the facilities will be able to accommodate patients who have been tested and require quarantine

Mitchell said the "100-percent COVID-19" care centers will relieve pressure on area hospitals as the region prepares for a surge in the rate of infection. Those hospitals include St. Luke's in New Bedford, Tobey Hospital in Wareham, and Charlton Hospital in Fall River, he said.

Other healthcare systems in the region have also committed to the partnership, including Hawthorne Medical Associates of the Steward Health Care Network and the Greater New Bedford Community Health Center, Mitchell said.

The city and its partners launched the endeavor about three weeks ago and have been working hard to renovate the building, negotiate contracts with private vendors, and navigate legal and administrative requirements, Mitchell said.

Mary Serreze/Townsquare Media
Mary Serreze/Townsquare Media

The mayor thanked Mark Champagne, head of the New Bedford Department of Facilities and Fleet Management, for springing into action and coordinating the building effort. He acknowledged Essex CEO Frank Romano, who was not able to attend the event held outside the Rockdale Avenue facility.

Hovan, who said Southcoast is now expanding its ICU capacity, said the step-down care facilities represent a "proactive step" that will "establish capacity in this region to be prepared for the surge when it comes."

Coogan thanked the workers on the front line. "Everyone is a link in the chain," he said. "People on the front lines are going to be the ones who win this battle."

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