The James A. Haley VA Medical Center opened the makeshift facility about a year ago, in response to the coronavirus outbreak, for treating patients when the hospital’s regular ER gets too crowded, WFLA-TV of Tampa reported.
But veterans who’ve been treated there say the so-called "garage ER" can get chilly some days, hot and humid other days – and can fall short on providing privacy.
"A complete embarrassment," is how Rafael Techera, a combat veteran who’s been treated there several times for back pain, described the setup.
"It smells and sounds like a parking garage," Techera told WFLA. "You still have the cars coming through. You still have the traffic. I can’t believe they would treat veterans who served their country this way."
Another veteran, who requested anonymity, said he couldn’t believe he was being treated in a parking garage for his respiratory condition.
"Now that is a respiratory issue," he told the station, "in a garage filled with carbon monoxide."
Timothy McGuirk, the hospital’s director of emergency medicine, admitted the garage ER was not an "ideal" situation but he defended the operation, listing its assets.
"We can do an EKG out here, we have a crash cart, we even have X-rays out there," McGuirk told WFLA.
He added later: "Everything in medicine has a risk-benefit ratio. An open-area environment is certainly much safer in terms of preventing the spread of COVID disease."
McGuirk and Shayna Rodriguez, the hospital’s public affairs officer, noted that the Haley center had the busiest ER operation in a region that covers Florida, southern Georgia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Since October 2020, Haley has treated more than 14,000 emergency patients – or 3,000 more than the No. 2 facility over that same span, Rodriguez said.
"I would love to be able to take it down tomorrow," McGuirk said. "This is not my idea of an ideal place to work. but we feel we’ve been fairly successful at protecting our patients and protecting our staff by using this model."