This is NOT a hospital. It’s an alternate care facility that may be needed if hospital beds become scarce, and it’s the first of its kind according to Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzger. The governor, during a visit on April 3, 2020, described the alternative care facility as an intervention for citizens in the Chicago area not assigned to critical care related to COVID-19. He credited the work of all the agencies involved.
“Monumental, round-the-clock dedication got this done before we need it-preparing for saving lives in the event things become as bad as some have predicted," Pritzker said.
In part, it is made possible by a team of 60 members of the Illinois Air National Guard who have been activated to provide labor and support of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Chicago District, build-out of McCormick Place to accommodate the possible overflow of COVID-10 patients.
Approximately 20 Airmen deployed from each of the Illinois Air National Guard units across the state, the 126th Air Refueling Wing, 183rd Wing, and the 182nd Airlift Wing.
Once online, the facility will have the ability to care for approximately 3,000 patients and will act as a model for other regions of the country to follow, said Second Lieutenant Jon Kent, the officer-in-charge of the Illinois Air National Guard relief efforts at the McCormick Place.
“I could not be more proud of the work accomplished by our Airmen this week,” said Kent. “In just five short days, they were able to set up a system that they were unfamiliar with and greatly enhanced the capabilities of medical responders who will soon be using the facilities here. They are a great example of how the Illinois National Guard stands ever ready to support the citizens of Illinois in any mission assigned to us.”
For most of the guardsmen assigned to this duty, it marks their first state activation and has been an unprecedented experience for all involved. Those who have answered the call are doing their part to protect the Chicago area and make it a safer place for its citizens, said Senior Airman Austin DeRousse, team lead for the 126th Air Refueling Wing assigned to McCormick Place.
“We are basically building a home away from home the best that we can for the patients that are coming in.” said DeRousse. “All three units involved have been great people to work with and we are all working together to make a huge difference for potentially 3,000 patients. Seeing those 500 beds being built out that give sick people a place to come so that they can keep their families and the rest of the population safe is really an awesome thing to be a part of.”
The purpose of the facility is to handle COVID-19 patients specifically and to serve overflow patients from area hospitals, said Technical Sergeant Jason Erlick, team lead for the 182nd Airlift Wing assigned to McCormick place.
“We started off with approximately 200 pallets of medical equipment and three expansive convention areas here at McCormick place and have transformed that into a medical facility with items that a COVID-19 patient might need.” said Erlick. “We separated over 600 different medical items and stocked each room in order to fulfill the needs of the patients. This is history right here, it’s not a happy history, but it’s something that our children will be learning about some day and it’s remarkable to be here and to make a difference.”
The Illinois National Guard’s contribution to the McCormick Place project has already yielded over 3,000 man hours to complete the initial 500 beds and supplies. Work on the alternate care facility is scheduled to continue through the coming days in order to finish the project, helping to better prepare the state for what is to come.