Statewide doctors group concerned about workload, but suburban hospitals say staffing levels are strong
The head of a statewide medical association on Monday expressed concern for physicians treating the growing number of COVID-19 patients and medical equipment shortages, but suburban hospital officials said they are in good shape in both areas right now.
"Many doctors are working longer hours within our health systems, placing themselves in harm's way, to diagnose and treat COVID-19 patients," Dr. Paul E. Pedersen of downstate Bloomington, president of the Illinois State Medical Society, said Monday in a statement to the Daily Herald. "There has also been a massive disruption to medical care delivery for patients with non-COVID-19 related conditions. Patients are being asked to stay away from medical settings to avoid exposure to COVID-19."
Pedersen also said there is a need for personal protective equipment, such as tightfitting N95 respirator masks in short supply nationwide. Despite individuals' and companies' donations and efforts to find other solutions, he said, efficient distribution channels are "critically needed."
Locally, hospital officials say staffing and equipment levels are strong for now, and the emphasis is on keeping medical staffers healthy and rested.
"One thing we are very aware of is making sure that folks are reminded to take care of themselves, especially our front-line nurses and staff," Keith Hartenberger, spokesman for the Edward-Elmhurst Health System that includes Elmhurst Hospital and Edward Hospital in Naperville. "They can't take care of the patient if they're ill."
Hartenberger said what's ahead is "certainly a marathon, not a sprint." Staff members are taking breaks when needed, backing up others and filling in when necessary.
"It's a message of trying to keep ourselves healthy as much as possible," he said.
AMITA Health spokesman Timothy A. Nelson said doctors, nurses and other clinical employees are encouraged to take the same precautions asked of the public by Gov. J.B. Pritzker: don't come to work if sick, stay at home off the job, practice social distancing, eat healthy and get enough sleep. AMITA has hospitals across the suburbs, including Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Elk Grove Village, Adventist Medical Center GlenOaks in Glendale Heights and Holy Family Medical Center in Des Plaines.
On the issue of personal protective equipment such as the N95 respirator masks, Dr. Kiumars Moghadam, medical director of hospital medicine at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital, said the facility in Winfield currently has an adequate supply.
"The fear is -- with the projected number of patients that may be coming through -- that we would run out if we weren't able to obtain more," Moghadam said. "But, for the moment, we have an adequate supply. And for the patients we have now, we're not concerned that we don't have enough."
If there's a mild or moderate surge in patients, Moghadam said, the hospital will be fine.
AMITA and Edward-Elmhurst also are adequately stocked with the protective equipment for now. Hartenberger said there's been an "overwhelming" response from the community with offers of N95 masks and other supplies for Edward-Elmhurst.
Harper College in Palatine made protective equipment donations Monday to Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights and Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital near Lake Barrington. The contributions from the college's health careers programs included N95 masks, surgical gowns, safety glasses and disinfecting wipe containers.
However, National Nurses United, a nationwide union representing registered nurses, is calling on Congress to ensure nurses and health care workers are given the protections they need to avoid exposure to COVID-19.
Green Oaks resident Jennifer Banek, an independent nurse anesthesiologist who prepares patients for surgery at hospitals and other medical facilities in the suburbs and Wisconsin, said Monday there are no guarantees she will have the appropriate and necessary equipment for her job.
"I actually connected with somebody on Facebook that had a couple of N95 masks," said Banek, a director of a large northern region for the Illinois Association of Nurse Anesthetists who also is running for Lake County coroner. "They're supposed to be a single use ideally, but I seized the opportunity to take a couple of the masks to have them if things start getting ugly."
Meanwhile, Moghadam said doctors at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital are trying to keep themselves healthy.
At the hospital, they're canceling face-to-face meetings, practicing social distancing and wiping down computers before using them, he said. Outside the facility, the doctors are following the shelter in place order.
From a mental standpoint, Moghadam said everyone is buckling down. "We're putting our heads down and digging into the work that needs to be done," he said.