By Scott Davis, P.E.
Amidst surging volumes of COVID-19 cases this spring, many cities rapidly transformed boats, convention centers, decommissioned hospitals, and other alternative facilities into satellite hospital spaces. While demand for hospital beds ultimately decelerated ahead of the worst projections, cities and healthcare organizations that met their urgent capacity needs are now better positioned for future crises. Some, like the City of Chicago, emerged from the pandemic’s peak armed with learnings should another crisis emerge.
For Chicago, anticipating demand included the transformation of McCormick Place — North America’s largest convention facility — into a 3,000-bed temporary critical care center, in just two short weeks. For this Herculean effort, the city enlisted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Illinois National Guard, a major construction company and a global facility management (FM) service provider, which was tasked with creating a qualified team and standard FM processes for the highly specialized healthcare environment.
Coordinating The Fast-Moving Parts
Even before the FM contract was signed, team leads attended daily transition meetings to anticipate the services, suppliers, and subcontractors required. The team needed to ensure that everything from bed linens to FM personal protective equipment (PPE) would be available by the time the first patients were set to arrive, while also managing the right processes for maintaining a high-intensity environment.
Within a week of hearing from the City of Chicago about its urgent requirements, the FM service provider submitted an Integrated Facility Management (IFM) proposal complete with staffing, supplies, and seven subcontractors. Following the contract signing, the FM service provider on-boarded 200 employees and subcontractors, ensuring everyone completed site safety and PPE training — all within two short (but very long) weeks. By the time the first patients arrived, the facility was equipped with:
- An on-site command post
- An established computerized maintenance management system (CMMS)
- Personnel and procedures for maintenance and repairs
- Security, janitorial, and laundry services
- Loading dock management and supply delivery and placement
Lessons Learned And Best Practices
Creating a satellite healthcare FM operation within a tight deadline requires immense logistics coordination and a realistic assessment of the anticipated patient load. As the McCormick Place team learned, the following are best practices to consider:
1. Create the right team. For many city administrators, the rapid creation of one or more alternative healthcare facilities is a once-in-a-career challenge. Therefore, it’s critical to tap expertise and resources that can augment city capabilities. For the City of Chicago, that meant partnering with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Illinois National Guard, a major construction company, and an FM service provider, which had managed facility operations for large military bases and also had a large healthcare FM practice.
2. Clarify contract scope as quickly as possible. The more quickly you can clarify the scope of work, the sooner work can begin. Even before the contract was signed, the City of Chicago and the FM service provider were in frequent contact about contract status. Behind the scenes, the FM service provider negotiated and prepared subcontractor contracts, interviewed personnel, located a uniform supplier, and completed numerous other preparations so that all contracts and purchase orders could be quickly executed once the prime contract was signed.
3. Establish on-site facility management command posts. In a large satellite facility with all the technical demands of healthcare operations, on-site attention is critical. At McCormick Place, the FM team established an on-site command post with connectivity to a work-order management system. As a result, facility tasks could be quickly delegated to the right personnel.
4. Meet daily with stakeholders. With a knowledgeable team leader on site, the FM service provider participated in daily all-hands meetings with caregivers, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, political leaders, and other stakeholders in the McCormick Place operations. With a view from the frontlines, the FM team leader was able to address questions and requests from stakeholders, while proactively managing emerging needs of the facility operations.
5. Don’t overlook supplier diversity and small business support. Many organizations — and especially government entities — maintain supplier diversity goals, including work with small, local businesses. Despite the urgency of the McCormick Place project, the FM service provider was able to subcontract three local security companies (two of which were small businesses) to work together as one team. For janitorial services, the FM team hired another small business who was previously working at the Navy Pier, a major downtown tourist attraction that closed because of the pandemic. The creative solution not only helped address pandemic-related local unemployment, but also provided the added benefit of bringing business to a minority-owned, small company.
6. Expect the unexpected. In a project of this magnitude, unexpected emergencies undoubtedly arise. Ideally, the FM team will be willing to go above and beyond the letter of their contract to address emerging critical situations. At McCormick Place, for example, the City of Chicago was responsible for securing oxygen to be provided via piping to patient spaces. However, the healthcare team also needed mobile oxygen tanks in other patient care areas — and the City was having difficulty procuring them. With the facility opening only three days away, the FM service provider quickly turned to one of its suppliers and purchased enough mobile tanks for the initial anticipated patient load.
Benefits Of Fast-Tracked Readiness
The COVID-19 pandemic brought a multitude of learnings to different industries across the world, and the need to have a crisis response plan is one that most will not forget to overlook going forward. And while each crisis presents itself uniquely, we do know one thing: time is of the essence. Whether your timeline is two months, two weeks, or two days — the power of teamwork and clear communication should not be underestimated.
Davis, P.E., Managing Director, Government Integrated Facilities Management, at JLL. He leads a team of professionals that help public institutions reduce costs, improve compliance, and enhance operational efficiency in their facilities. Davis has 25 years of experience in engineering, construction, and facilities-related services with the U.S. Department of Defense, other federal government agencies, and the commercial sector. He is a member of the Society of American Military Engineers (SAME), the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA), and the International Facility Management Association (IFMA).
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