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VCU Students Caught Off Guard by Dormitory Turned Medical Facility

people walking
VCU students walking on campus - before the coronavirus outbreak. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

*VPM intern Alan Rodriguez Espinoza reported this story

Without notifying students, Virginia Commonwealth University began transforming its Honors College dormitory into a temporary medical site on Wednesday to increase capacity in preparation for a projected spike in COVID-19 cases.

Experts say Virginia doesn't have enough hospital beds for the coronavirus pandemic. VCU Health is asking the state to approve the in-process expansion of inpatient beds at its facilities. 

“We are preparing to save lives,” VCU President Michael Rao said in a statement. “The health system has devoted significant resources to quantifying the need for acute inpatient services resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The modified residence hall would accommodate patients without the disease, which would free up space for coronavirus treatment at the university’s other facilities.

Many Honors students say they were not notified that their belongings were being removed and sent to a storage facility. VCU had previously told student residents there was no need to retrieve their belongings from campus.

“I had a lot of items that were personal to me,” said Leah Tyrrell, a freshman at VCU. “Just all kinds of things that I think are very easy for someone who doesn’t know me personally to just throw into a box and not know that something important to me is getting damaged.”

Honors College freshman Anna Mitchell was able to take all her belongings home with her for spring break. She says she understands the need to expand capacity for patients, but says she is confused and frustrated with how the situation unfolded.

“I’m glad they’re gonna get that medical care,” Mitchell said. “I just wish VCU had been more clear with communication beforehand.” 

In a statement Thursday, VCU apologized for not notifying students ahead of making modifications to the residence hall.

“We are operating in a crisis situation with many moving parts,” the statement reads. “We will do better and ask for your understanding as we work through this crisis together. Our priority remains the health and safety of our students and our community.”

In its letter to the State Health Commissioner, VCU is requesting authorization to increase bed capacity in its facilities by 330 beds, 180 of which would be located in the Honors College dormitory.

As of Thursday, the university’s request to the State Health Commissioner is pending.