McCormick Place hospital ready to accept patients next week

Mayor Lori Lightfoot hailed the trade unions and federal partners who helped to deliver another 1,750 patient rooms, 43 nursing stations and support rooms for medical supply storage, pharmacy and housekeeping services.

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A semi-truck with supplies parks at McCormick Place’s Hall A, Friday, April 10, 2020. McCormick Place’s Hall A is being transformed into a 500 bed alternative care facility to combat the coronavirus pandemic in Chicago.

A semi-truck with supplies parks at McCormick Place’s Hall A on Friday. The hall is being transformed into a 500-bed alternative care facility to combat the coronavirus pandemic in Chicago. In all, 2,250 beds have been put in place at the lakefront convention center.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

A McCormick Place convention center that housed the Auto show just a few weeks ago will be ready to accept 2,250 coronavirus patients next week, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Friday, calling the two-week completion an “astronomical feat” that’s one for the record books.

One week after joining Gov. J.B. Pritzker to announce the first 500 beds were ready, Lightfoot hailed the trade unions and federal partners who helped to deliver another 1,750 patient rooms, 43 nursing stations and support rooms for medical supply storage, pharmacy and housekeeping services.

Over 400 health care professionals — nurses, doctors, social workers and pharmacists — have been hired to staff the alternate care facility, believed to be the largest of its kind in the nation. Over 300 staff have already completed training.

Less than 48 hours ago, 500 “negative pressure tents” arrived from Oregon, thanks to the Illinois National Guard.

Dr. Nick Turkal, the veteran hospital administrator who has assembled the medical team, said the tents deliver “higher levels of oxygen” and “a slightly higher level of care” to “moderately-ill” patients with “higher concentrations of COVID virus.”

“Our job is to be a pressure valve release for the hospitals if they get overly busy,” Turkal said.

“We look forward to readiness for those patients by about the middle of next week. Now, that’s depending on constant communication with our hospital partners for them to tell us when it’s time. But when it’s time, we’re going to be ready.”

Chicago Federation of Labor President Bob Reiter sang the praises of the trade unions whose members worked around the clock — ignoring the risk to their own health — to deliver the facility in record time.

They installed 100 new water lines, 1,000 electrical outlets and lines and more than 100 data lines to serve an electronic records system needed to accept and monitor patients quickly and safely.

“Normally projects like these would take years to construct. But of course, we do not have years. Instead of shying away from the task, Chicago’s union tradespeople did what they always do at a time of crisis. They laced up their boots and went to work,” Reiter said.

“It’s an honor to represent the heroes who have worked non-stop for nearly two weeks to construct this amazing facility. I’ll say this again because it’s the God’s-honest truth. The workers who built this facility are heroes. Every day they’ve risked their own health and safety by leaving their families to come here to McCormick Place. Their sacrifice will not be overlooked by the grateful people of this city.”

The Chicago Federation of Labor has an ownership stake in Sun-Times Media.

In addition to serving spillover patients, Lightfoot said the $15 million facility bankrolled by FEMA and supervised by the Army Corps of Engineers will provide “potentially hundreds” of new jobs.

At a time of skyrocketing unemployment, people will be hired to provide “catering, security, janitorial and other wrap-around services” at McCormick Place.

The majority of the work will be done “through existing city contracts” to “maximize participation” by companies owned by minorities and women, said the mayor, who wore a face mask that looked like a Chicago flag during the tour.

“To do that, we’ll be partnering with aldermen and other elected officials, local chambers, community-based organizations and labor groups for recruitment and support,” Lightfoot said.

“In other words, in addition to serving a life-saving function for our city, this facility will also be supporting our residents and small businesses who are hurting so much right now.”

Under questioning, the mayor said she would not hesitate to call off the Lollapalooza music festival if she believes it would not be safe to allow tens of thousands of young people to gather this summer in Grant Park.

But she argued she was not yet ready to make that call, since the festival is four months away.


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