By Kevin Deutsch and Sasha Gonzales
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The decision to cancel a Department of Defense contract to build a 200-bed field hospital in the Bronx was made at the behest of New York State, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
FEMA, the federal agency tasked with aiding states in times of crisis, got word from New York’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services that the Van Cortland Park site – along with a handful of other “alternate care” facilities contracted for rapid construction in the state – were “no longer needed,” FEMA spokeswoman Lauren Lefebvre told Bronx Justice News Tuesday.
“The state makes the decision about whether we push forward with alternate care sites,” Lefebvre said.
“They told us the…additional sites are no longer needed, and so it’s not going to go forward.”
News of the canceled contract for the field hospital was first reported by Bronx Justice News Monday in an exclusive report.
The $40 million contract to build a field hospital on Van Cortland Park’s sprawling Parade Ground was awarded April 3 to Parsons Corporation, a global defense and critical infrastructure provider that had been rushing to build the Bronx’s only COVID-19 hospital. The project broke ground this month amid an acute, and ongoing, shortage of coronavirus care in the borough’s low-income communities of color.
A stop-work order for the project was issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Monday morning following the contract’s cancellation, according to Parsons.
“This morning, Parsons and the other contractors selected during the second phase of field hospital development in New York have been advised that these efforts are not proceeding,” Parsons spokesman Bryce McDevitt said Monday.
FEMA said the contract for the Bronx hospital was awarded after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers identified several sites for emergency care facilities in New York—the global epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the contract for the structure now canceled, the Bronx lacks any emergency, federally-administered field hospitals, despite having the highest rate of coronavirus death and transmission in New York City.
Neither Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, nor the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, responded on the record to requests for comment.
A New York State official authorized to discuss the cancelation told Bronx Justice News in an email:
”As a result of the initial success of the NY Pause order, the state’s hospitalization rate is plateauing and we have so far avoided the worst case scenario we were preparing for. With this reduced need for hospital beds, the development of the Alternative Care Facility at Van Cortlandt Park is being suspended at this time. However, we are closely monitoring all available data on a daily basis to determine if the site will be needed in the future. There is capacity available at the Javits and USNS Comfort facilities, and those sites will continue to be used.”
Construction of the Bronx hospital faced numerous logistical challenges, given the Parade Ground’s vulnerability to rain and flooding. The emergency structure would had to have been erected from scratch by builders, then entirely sealed to ensure sterility against spread of the virus.
Multiple Bronx officials – City Councilmen Ritchie Torres and Andrew Cohen among them – criticized the decision to stop construction amid a devastating local outbreak. At least 23,352 Bronx residents were infected and 1,400 of them killed by COVID-19 as of Tuesday morning.
“They tell us whether there’s a need,” Lefebvre said of the state, “and whether we should continue construction.”
“It’s their decision whether we push forward on this.”