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In about six hours, International Medical Corps erected a field hospital outside Vista Medical Center East in Waukegan, expanding the hospital’s capabilities, on Friday.
The facility will be used to increase testing space or for overflow patients from the emergency department.
In non-pandemic times, International Medical Corps provides emergency relief overseas to those struck by disaster, war or disease. In the current COVID-19 pandemic, those services are being spread across the United States. Already, International Medical Corps has built facilities in Los Angeles, Puerto Rico, Detroit, New York and now near Chicago. It provides volunteers to staff the facilities and personal protective equipment, too.
Dr. Scott Lillibridge, an epidemiologist who is leading for International Medical Corps’ U.S. COVID-19 response, said it’s easier to provide support to an existing hospital than to erect a new facility, such as what the state has done at McCormick Place in Chicago.
“We focus on individual hospitals to try to keep them running,” Lillibridge said. “In my experience, in hot zones and war zones in the 30 countries where we normally work, it is always better to build on an existing hospital because it is more efficient, they have organizational capacity, they have a trained staff already.”
Lillibridge said some hospitals receive as much as a 20% to 50% bump in support from a field hospital, depending on how they use the facility. If a hospital uses it for testing, it could increase testing numbers “dramatically.”
The program is supported by AbbVie and FedEx, as well as private donations. Lillibridge said the Lake County Health Department reached out for support.
Lake County has seen 1,914 positive cases of COVID-19 and 71 deaths, as of Friday, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Waukegan is the hardest-hit Chicago suburb, according to IDPH zip code data. The 60085 zip code, encompassing Waukegan and Park City, has reported 449 COVID-19 cases.
IDPH hospital data indicate the state’s northeast region, encompassing eastern Lake County and northeastern Cook, has only 35 of 150 ICU beds available and 66 of 131 ventilators available as of Friday.
A half dozen workers constructed the field hospital at Vista Medical Center East in a matter of six hours. It can withstand sustained winds of up to 80 miles an hour. Another field hospital will be constructed Monday at the University of Chicago Medicine Ingalls Memorial Hospital in Harvey in the south suburbs.
Lillibridge said the program has three main goals: help hospitals expand their surge capacity, work with internal staff find equipment to expand ICU and critical care space and to staff volunteers.
“Those three things help hospitals sort of get a bump in surge capacity in a highly targeted manner that focuses on the individual institution,” Lillibridge said.