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Shuttered Blue Island Hospital To Reopen For COVID-19 Patients

CHICAGO (CBS) --  Now to a CBS 2 exclusive:

We keep hearing that we haven't seen the worst of the coronavirus in Illinois just yet.

Now the race is on to increase the number of hospital beds. One of the solutions is to reopen MetroSouth Hospital in Blue Island.

CBS 2 Investigator Dave Savini got a look inside to see what it will take to reopen the shuttered hospital.

The MetroSouth Medical Center in Blue Island may look like it's ready to take patients.

But it isn't.

The infrastructure needs an overhaul. The piping system that provides medical gases like oxygen, medical air and vacuum for suction needed to operate ventilators is also being repaired.

When done it will be capable of handling highly acute COVID-19 patients.

It will be the largest of all three once-shuttered Chicago-area hospitals to reopen. CBS 2 had an exclusive first-hand look at how the Army Corp of Engineers and a private contractor are attempting turn around the vacant and outdated Blue Island hospital.

Floor by floor, from the ER to the neonatal unit and ICU units all the way to the sixth floor, where old offices are also being turned into COVID-19 patient isolation rooms.

"We are looking at every potential space in the hospital," said Army Colonel Aaron Reisinger. "To make it usable for patient space if we can."

The once abandoned hospital may soon be able to hold 550 COVID-19 positive patients. Col. Aaron Reisinger has been in numerous war zones, but never fought this kind of battle.

He said it's a race against the clock.

"I don't think anybody has ever worked on something that has this much importance in the amount of time and how meaningful it is to get it done," Reisinger said.

They are also quickly cutting sheet metal to create panels and ventilation systems, making as many negative pressure rooms as possible.

"When it sucks the air through, there's a HEPA filter in there that cleans and captures any contaminates. So we're spitting clean air out of the building," he said.

The air filtration systems may not look pretty but they said they will work.

Another challenge: upgrading the IT system. And then there is all the floor space where old carpet had be torn out and new laminate flooring installed.

It's a more then a job for Ryan Jennings of Clark Construction, who lives in Channahon.

"I'm just grateful I can be part of it and help," Jennings said.

David Trolian is the CEO and head of the crew doing the rebuild from Clark Construction. He said this hits home because he grew near Blue Island. He has about 150 workers working 18 hours a day. Trolian grew near Blue Island.

"Knowing what a disappointment it was to see this hospital closed ultimately in 2019, being able to bring it back to life and bring it as a service to the community, it feels good, feels like the right thing to do."

Colonel Reisinger said the Army Corp of Engineers operates under FEMA, but he and his team are prioritizing their work based on the state's efforts to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Every single one of us are extremely honored to be part of the mission," Reisinger said. "We have a lot of energy. We have a lot of people working incredibly hard, 24/7."

Trolian said his company got the contract on Sunday night and had 50 people start the work Monday morning.

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