$66M to hospitalize 38 patients over 3 weeks—would you take that deal?

Responding swiftly to the COVID crisis this past spring, the city of Chicago imagined, built and began operating a nicely outfitted, high-capacity hospital in just three weeks and five days. That was the impressive part.

Less likely to inspire imitators: The 2,750-bed facility would treat only 38 patients and close just 21 days after the first patients arrived.

The price tag to taxpayers landed around $66 million.

That comes out to more than $1.7 million per patient.

As noted by investigative reporters Tim Novak and Robert Herguth of the Chicago Sun-Times, the exorbitant outlay stands in stark contrast to the comparably modest $50 million the city spent with the Army Corps of Engineers to repurpose three separate, previously closed hospitals.  

The newspaper posted the team’s blow-by-blow account of the rise and fall of the COVID-ready “McCormick Place Hospital” Aug. 14.

Novak and Herguth went through records, emails, RFPs and contract signings to file their just-the-facts report, which packs a considerable punch in less than 1,000 words.

It seems the McCormick hospital project started with good intentions before the plot thickened with predictably political connections, understandably hurried decisions and possibly opportunistic operators.

Of note, the journalists found officials unapologetic about the big spend even though the return on taxpayers’ investment is—at best—fuzzy.

Top aides to Mayor Lori Lightfoot “say her decision to initiate the project with the federal government and the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority was an important ‘insurance policy’ at a time of ‘immense emergency,’” Novak and Herguth report.

“It’s something I’m incredibly proud of,” Samir Mayekar, Lightfoot’s deputy mayor for economic and neighborhood development, tells the paper.

Mayekar further maintains that the money was “not spent in vain,” adding that much of the medical equipment purchased for the temporary hospital is now in storage and “can be redeployed if needed.”

Which may serve to remind readers that there are at least two sides to most every story.

Read the whole thing.