Exclusive look inside upcoming alternate care facility at old Sherman Hospital

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ELGIN, Ill. – WGN received an exclusive look Friday at an upcoming alternate care facility being built in Elgin.

As the number of COVID-19 cases rise in the state, there is worry hospitals could soon be overwhelmed.

Inside the old Sherman Hospital, which has been shuttered for more than a decade, the Army Corps of Engineers are working around the clock to get the facility up and running.

U.S. Army Col. Aaron Reisinger knows every second counts for his team.

“Time is driving everybody here,” Col. Reisinger said. “It’s hard to describe the challenge of getting done what we’re doing in the amount of time we had.”

When they arrived at the hospital, the team found operating rooms stacked with furniture, hallways lined with TVs that pre-date the flat screen era and sunken sinks.

“I don’t think any of us have dealt with the level of time that we have available,” Col. Reisinger said. “The urgency.”

Col. Reisinger is overseeing a group of contractors and skilled laborers working on three floors of three different interconnected buildings.

Altogether, a 100,000-square foot renovation job that includes everything from basic building functions to more specialized work like building private patient areas, complete with negative pressure.

“We’re going to be sucking more air out of here than is being brought in,” said Tom Nelson with Turner Construction. “So we’re not spreading any of the air in here to the rest of the facility.”

Clean air is one of the most important aspects of preventing the spread of COVID-19.

The HVAC team is taking their job seriously.

“I’m honored to be part of this team and to do betterment to society as a whole.” Tim Pletz with Hill Group said. “It means a lot to me, my family, my company, everyone that personally know.”

Some areas of the old hospital had written reminders scrawled on the walls. In other areas, the walls were just being built.

The facility will be open on April 24 with 280 or 290 beds.

Col. Reisinger said it will not be a traditional hospital with a typical emergency room.

“They’re really an outlet to the existing hospital networks, so the hospitals are where you would initially go to be treated and be seen,” Col. Reisinger said. “These facilities would be where the hospital could send you if they no longer have capacity.”

The task is even more challenging for team members because of the dangers of the pandemic, which requires workers to perform their jobs while social distancing.

150 people are working all day with a crew of 50 working through the night. 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“I think everybody realizes they’re taking some personal risk to do that,” Col. Reisinger said. “But they understand how important the mission is and they’re going to come to work and execute anyway.”

The urgency of the mission makes this one of the most daunting engineering challenges the colonel has ever faced. But he knows with anxiety and fear gripping the nation, he’s not really building a hospital, he’s building something much more.

“Ultimately, what we’re doing is building confidence,” said Col. Reisinger.

The facility will be used if and when the health care system is pushed to capacity.

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