The cost of ‘just in case’ hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic

Coronavirus

CHICAGO – WGN Investigates has looked into the price tag of “just in case” facilities during the coronavirus pandemic.

Most makeshift hospitals in the city and suburbs have not seen a single patient as the number of cases per day continue to be over 1,000.

“They will be building out to 3,000 beds by the end of the month,” Gov. Pritzker said on April 4 about the future alternate care facility at McCormick Place. “This folks, this, this is Illinois.”

In the nearly one month since those words were spoken, the makeshift hospital at McCormick Place has seen just 29 COVID-patients.

Most, if not all, were in relatively good shape as they recovered and prepared to go home.

In early April, officials acknowledged the facility may not be needed.

“We all fervently hope we will never need to take care of a patient here,” said Dr. Nick Turkal.

Of the 254 medical workers the state contracted to hire for McCormick Place, 170 have already been re-assigned.

But the state health department said there are still 84 assigned to the convention center, which now has just nine patients. That’s nine medical workers for every patient.

“We have a shortage of health care workers across the state so those not working at McCormick Place, they can be re-deployed and we are redeploying them.”

WGN Investigates reviewed state payments and found at least $7.4 million has spent on medical staffing specifically for McCormick Place.

Records reveal the state also bought 800 iPhones for use at McCormick Place at a cost of more than $460,000.

While the Army Corps of Engineers played a role in building out some of the so-called alternate care facilities, the bills have yet to come in from the private contractors.

The state renovated shuttered hospitals in Elgin, Melrose Park and Blue Island fearing an influx of COVID patients.

None of the suburban facilities have treated a single person.

“Maybe we wouldn’t have needed to spend it had we invested in public health infrastructure over the years. It is something as a state we’re going to have to really look at and assess as we move out of this pandemic because I think we have found ourselves having to invest very quickly – which always costs more money,” said Susan Stewart with the American Nurses Association of Illinois. “But if we had been prepared we wouldn’t have needed to spend that extra money.”

With Illinoisans slowing the spread by staying home, Gov. Pritzker is now saying the makeshift hospitals may not be needed.

“It looks like we’re going to be able to stand down more of that facility,” Gov. Pritzker said. “But I don’t want to speak too soon. Because of these alternate care facilities need to be in a state of some kind of readiness in the event there’s a surge.”

At the beginning of the outbreak, the governor foreshadowed that if the state did everything right, people would look back at things like the stay-at-home order and makeshift hospitals and label them an overraction.

While they’ve barely been used, the state is not ready to shut the overflow hospitals down.

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