Community members showered Westlake construction crews with appreciation on April 17.

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News that a nearby hospital that closed last year could reopen temporarily to treat COVID-19 patients called for a bit of pomp and circumstance on Friday — a week before construction is scheduled to end.

During the April 17 parade, cars and fire trucks drove by Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park as construction workers looked on in appreciation. The parade was planned by state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th) and local officials like Melrose Park Mayor Ron Serpico.

“I am so grateful for the round the clock work that the Army Corps of Engineers and local construction workers have put in to reopen Westlake,” Welch said. He added that the parade was also to “show support for the folks working to reopen Westlake as well as all health care workers, first responders, and essential personnel working during this time of crisis.”

During Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s daily COVID-19 press briefing in Chicago on April 10, Dr. Suzet McKinney, the CEO and executive director of the Illinois Medical District, said that the officials plan on completing updating Westlake Hospital by April 24.

The Melrose Park hospital, which was closed last year, is one of five alternate care sites that the state will temporarily repurpose to treat COVID-19 patients, in case existing medical facilities run out of capacity to treat those patients. McKinney is responsible for overseeing operations for those sites.

The other four are McCormick Place in Chicago, Metro South Medical Center in Blue Island, Advocate Sherman in Elgin and Vibra Hospital in Springfield. The latter site likely won’t open until May 9, McKinney said.

“Once construction is complete, we’ll need about two days to train all the staff,” McKinney said, adding that the sites are only intended to “supplement, not replace our acute care hospitals,” in order to open up bed space at those existing hospitals “for the most critically ill.”

Pritzker, who first announced on April 2 that Westlake was among those five alternate care sites, said during his briefing on April 10 that he hopes none of the sites have to be utilized.

“We are all praying that we don’t need any of these alternate care facilities,” Pritzker said. “We’re building them out to make sure there is nobody who does not have a hospital bed, an ICU bed, or a ventilator that they may need one.”

Westlake, which was purchased by Pipeline Health last year along with West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park and Weiss Memorial in Chicago, could help alleviate the burden on hospitals in Oak Park if the COVID-19 pandemic causes them to reach capacity.

As of April 19, Oak Park had 128 confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to the Oak Park Public Health Department.

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com