Houston 'pop-up' hospital costing $17M may be dismantled over lack of use, reports say

A makeshift 250-bed medical shelter at NRG Park in Houston that cost millions -- meant to be a last resort if local hospitals were overwhelmed by the coronavirus -- may be dismantled as early as next week over lack of use, according to a report.

“We don’t want to be caught flat-footed," Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said before construction began on the shelter a little more than two weeks ago, according to KPRC-TV in Houston. "We are working to stay ahead of this.”

Since then, hospitals in the area haven’t surged to capacity amid the virus and daily cases seem to be declining, the station reported.

The facility has remained unused.

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Originally reported with a potential price tag of $60 million, KPRC reported the pop-up shelter will cost around $17 million and the federal government has agreed to pay 75 percent, leaving a likely $4.25 million tab for local taxpayers.

On April 6, before the deal was finalized, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said, “We are still within the hospitals’ abilities to handle the load.”

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Wednesday criticized Hidalgo for both the hospital and an order requiring residents to wear masks.

"On the same day Harris County Commissioner's Court plans to close the $60 million-dollar pop-up hospital at NRG Park, because it wasn't needed, Judge Lina Hidalgo orders anyone over the age of 10 to wear a mask in public,” Patrick said in a statement. “Her abuse of the use of executive orders is the ultimate government overreach. These kind of confused government policies fuel public anger - and rightfully so."

Hidalgo defended the hospital as a resource for a worst-case scenario and medical experts have credited the lower number of cases to residents vigilantly practicing social distancing and stay-at-home orders.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle plans to ask the county next week to cancel the hospital’s contract, Houston's KTRK-TV reported.

"It was a good insurance policy but clearly, we don't need it," Joe Stinebaker, Cagle's director of communications, said.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis disagreed.

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"I've got to listen to the medical experts," he said. "I'd rather have it and not need it, then not have it and need it."