Why the Detroit Pistons have made PPC available – if needed – for healthcare workers

Pistons photo
by Vince Ellis
Special for Pistons.com

Owner Tom Gores has frequently called the Detroit Pistons a community asset.

As the organization engages the business community and identifies areas to assist crisis response efforts in battling COVID-19, the infectious disease which threatens lives and livelihoods, one possibility is under consideration by government officials.

The state of Michigan has proposed the Henry Ford-Detroit Pistons Performance Center, which opened last fall, as one of several sites around the state that could be used to house healthcare workers if the pandemic strains hospital capacity in the coming weeks.

Michigan asked the Detroit district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to assess the feasibility of using the PPC and several other sites around the metropolitan area.

Construction is nearly completed that will convert downtown Detroit’s TCF Center, which is a larger venue that could hold up to 1,000 hospital beds, into a field hospital for COVID-19 patients. It was announced that the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi will become the state’s second field hospital site.
But more space could be needed.

“This would be the ultimate community activity – to serve as an alternate health facility or shelter for the members of the community that couldn’t be home,” Pistons vice president of public and business affairs Awenate Cobbina said recently.

“We do hope that it doesn’t come to that, but if it does, we would be happy to serve as a facility that served the public need. There’s really no bigger crisis in America than a public health crisis because it can affect anyone and it’s indiscriminate.”

A sudden spread

At Christmas, very few understood the future ramifications of the newly discovered virus in a Chinese province.

But in a few short months, the crisis has pushed almost everything else from news cycles.

The virus has spread to almost every corner of the globe with infections soaring past one million people. The U.S. is reporting growing caseloads and deaths.

Stay-at home orders to encourage social distancing cover most of the country. The guidelines have halted most professional sports, including the NBA.

The virus has spared no one with celebrities, government officials and NBA stars revealing positive tests to emerge as the faces of the crisis. Once-noisy streets have grown eerily silent.

Closer to home, Detroit has become a hotspot, bringing attention once again to the city’s poverty rates and lack of access to healthcare.

Michigan trails only New York and New Jersey in the number of confirmed cases. Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties are reporting a significant majority of the state’s cases.

Doctors and nurses are on the frontlines against the highly contagious coronavirus. The crisis has exposed the lack of ventilators and personal protective equipment for healthcare workers to combat the disease.

Treating the pandemic has strained staffs and healthcare systems all over the world, which has forced government officials to plan for worst-case scenarios to address potential shortages.

Enter the PPC

At 185,000 square feet, the PPC is the largest of its kind in the NBA. Costing $90 million, the facility is connected to the William Clay Ford Center for Athletic Medicine.

Built in the New Center area roughly two miles north of Little Caesars Arena where the Pistons have performed since 2017, the four-story building is close to several major highways and Henry Ford Hospital on Grand Blvd.

The facility has a modern heating and cooling system and with several basketball courts, there’s space for hospital beds or emergency housing.

Cobbina and Pistons vice chairman Arn Tellem have held ongoing discussions with the state, city and hospital officials during the crisis to brainstorm areas that could use Pistons assistance.

That explains the mutual interest.

“They said they were looking at facilities all around the state, just in case they need them,” Cobbina said. “There are facilities around the state that can be activated if the pandemic continues and grows to a point where they need extra places for shelter or places for hospital care if they have outstripped the number of beds (needed).”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reached out late last month and toured the facility to assess viability.

If chosen, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would restore the site to its original condition after need passes, according to the agency’s website.

“From the very beginning we said this building was meant to be a community asset,” Cobbina said. “We wanted to make sure the members of the community were able to served by the building.”

Other efforts

After the site assessment, it was deemed the third and fourth floors wouldn’t be needed, although Pistons employees are adhering to social-distancing guidelines by working from home. President Trump announced recommended guidelines would be in place until at least April 30.

The coming weeks will reveal if first responses are enough to address the crisis, but the franchise has already taken some steps to help.

The team announced shortly after the season was suspended that Pistons employees, including hourly and part-time staff who support game nights, will be paid during the league's hiatus.

Star Blake Griffin has pledged $100,000 for arena workers.

Coach Dwane Casey has taped public-service messages, asking residents to adhere to Governor Whitmer’s executive order of “Stay Home, Stay Safe” to help prevent the disease spread.

“Let’s all continue to do our part,” he said.

The Pistons and several business partners announced a $375,000 grant for Forgotten Harvest, a non-profit fighting hunger and food insecurity in the southeastern Michigan area. Derrick Rose taped a PSA in support of the non-profit.

Cobbina, who spent nearly six years in the Obama administration, said such efforts are to be expected.

“We don’t know what the future is going to bring, but I know that Michiganders and Americans are generally equipped to handle it because of their compassion, their empathy and willingness to care for their neighbors,” Cobbina said.


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