Inspired by pandemic challenges, Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center has built a new drive-thru facility for medical procedures, Building 33, informally called “The Pole Barn.”

The largest construction project ever completed by in-house Lovell FHCC personnel, the new structure on the hospital’s North Chicago campus allows Lovell FHCC providers to test, vaccinate, and provide other types of care to patients in their vehicles, minimizing exposure to people and surfaces that can potentially spread COVID-19, influenza and other infectious diseases. Ultimately planned to provide drive-thru vaccinations to Lovell FHCC patients, COVID-19 surveillance swabbing of Recruit Detachment Commanders has already been moved to the new structure.

“One of the things Building 33 really does is allow for maximum social distancing,” said Lovell FHCC Assistant Director of Plans and Operations Kathleen Kennedy.

Prior to the completion of this testing facility, Lovell FHCC staff members were providing swab tests for personnel from Recruit Training Command at Naval Station Great Lakes and Naval Training Center from a tent set up on the Lovell FHCC campus. Here, the staff administered about 200 tests, one to two times a week.

“Even though the tent was a great asset - I think giving our staff an enclosed structure with lights, heat, and tables has really benefitted our team doing this testing,” Kennedy said.

Since it was established in 2010, Lovell FHCC is the nation’s first federal health care center, integrating Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs medical and other services in North Chicago, Ill. . Lovell FHCC’s integrated mission of caring for military, military dependent and veteran patients is best captured through the motto, “Readying Warriors, Caring for Heroes.”

Kennedy said, “Building 33 is a great example of integration. We were able to use in-house personnel, and we had a mission, primarily the testing for RTC and NTC, that really drove that building.”

The construction of Building 33 began in September 2020, as soon as the materials arrived, and by mid-December, it was complete. Michael McCullough, Lovell FHCC carpenter shop supervisor, and his shop workers logged close to 3,000 hours to construct the building. Edwin Lopez, electric shop supervisor, and his team put nearly 900 hours into the construction of the building.

“The shops’ supervisors, Edwin and Mike, were always a step ahead of the workers with material and ideas, so there was no lapse in work or any down times waiting on material,” Lovell FHCC Facility Operations Specialist Derrik Heinzen said.

Another individual who was a main contributor to the completion of the project was Lovell FHCC Carpenter Thomas Arndt. Arndt oversaw many aspects of the construction, including building design, planning the physical location, groundwork preparations and coordinating with other trades to accomplish any necessary tasks. Facility Management at Lovell FHCC currently has six in-house shops including electrical, carpenter/paint, AC/refrigerator, and a service unit.

Considering the purpose of Building 33, the completion of the project was a crucial step, and utilizing FHCC’s in-house expertise was extremely beneficial, Kennedy said.

“The fact that we did this job in-house, we did not waste time soliciting, awarding bids, and building packages,” Heinzen said. “This usually adds six months to a year onto a time frame.”

Some future goals for Building 33 that are currently under development include expanding the swab testing for Lovell FHCC staff as well. Another one is potentially utilizing the drive-thru for mass patient vaccinations once the COVID-19 vaccine is available to larger numbers of people. In the long run, Building 33 may become an even bigger factor in deploying the vaccine and keeping patients and staff members safe, Kennedy said. This could not be possible without the work of Lovell FHCC’s in-house shops and the joint effort to limit the spread of COVID-19.

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