Hotel transformed by workers into COVID-19 hospital gets its first patient

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FLORISSANT, MO – It turns out the new 120-bed hospital for COVID-19 patients in Florissant, which was converted from a Quality Inn hotel in 79 hours,  is a tribute to the former, long-time CEO of St. Louis construction company, Tarlton Corp, Bob Elsperman, 83. Tarlton was the lead contractor on the project.

Elsperman died from COVID-19 complications the day before work started.

He started working for the company his father co-founded, now Tarlton, when he was 14.

70 years later, Tarlton workers helped complete a seemingly impossible task: turning hotel into hospital in a little more than three days.

To hear current Tarlton VP, Joe Scarfino tell it, it sounded as if Elsperman was still there quarterbacking it all.

“Thursday was merely discovery. Friday was what do we do and where do you find it. Saturday was pull up your britches and let’s get it done,” said Joe Scarfino.  “We had a higher purpose in this mission. It was to deliver this project in Bob’s honor, there was some added ‘umph’ in our mission.”

More than 400 people from the Missouri National Guard and about a dozen contractors put the time in on the effort, he said.  There were after hours runs to suppliers as far away as Indiana to replace A/C-heating units for a dozen rooms along with countless upgrades from floor to rooftop, which included the removal of old beds and furniture, as needed.

“We replaced carpeting. We painted.  We actually installed barriers throughout the hotel, so we did a lot of carpentry work…we had to rearrange the fresh air intakes.  We also had to relocate a dozen exhaust fans and replace exhaust fans … there was no break,” said Scarfino.

That was just a partial list.

Teams worked in two, 12-hour shifts, all for a place they hoped would not be needed.

Fox 2/News 11 learned the hospital took its first patient, late Wednesday afternoon after Simone Patrick of St. Louis was discharged from Christian Hospital. She was admitted to the newly opened overflow hospital at the Quality in Florissant to continue her recovery.

“There’s a part of me that said don’t go up there and spend 16 hours a day.  There’s a higher part of me that said that’s your mission, step in and take the hill … (we’re) proud and we would do it again,” said Scarfino.

 It’s a big honor knowing the converted hotel, designed to treat low-level COVID patients, will save space in the St. Louis area’s major hospitals for the more seriously ill, he said.

He would not hesitate to be treated at the Florissant Alternate Care Site (ACS) himself, if needed.

It was deep-cleaned and disinfected before work began and after it was finished.

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