Why NorthShore hospitals designated Glenbrook Hospital as its COVID-19 facility
The coronavirus pandemic prompted a shift in hospital operations nationwide as health care workers navigated the unknowns of the illness.
While many facilities worked to contain all COVID-19 patients on a certain floor, the NorthShore University HealthSystem took that approach a step further by designating one of its five hospitals as the primary location for treating the virus.
That meant that starting April 1, almost all COVID-19 patients were directed to Glenbrook Hospital in Glenview.
Teams of health care workers at Glenbrook concentrated specifically on fighting the global crisis, hospital President Jesse Peterson Hall said.
The facility is configured in a way that allows for the airflow to change, he said, creating a safer environment for patients, physicians and staff members.
"Because we decided to designate and concentrate COVID patients at one hospital, that meant we were able to focus staff and equipment and other types of resources at one place in order to build a system that would reliably care for those patients," he said. "This is where we've built up the expertise."
For a few months, Glenbrook Hospital stopped taking other admissions and began transferring some patients without the virus elsewhere. The majority were referred to Evanston Hospital or Highland Park Hospital based on medical specialties at each location and where beds were available, Hall said.
Elective surgeries and nonessential appointments were halted. Employees were shuffled among the Northshore system to support the COVID-19 services.
At its peak in early May, Glenbrook had 155 patients who tested positive for the coronavirus, Hall said. That number has gradually dropped over the last few weeks, bringing the count down to 48 by June 11.
As of June 22, Glenbrook Hospital has treated more than 800 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, he said, noting some also were being treated at Evanston Hospital.
"Our staff has gotten very good at taking care of these patients because we've done a lot of it," Hall said. "And to be honest, that's been fatiguing for people.
"These are very sick patients, and you're wearing the protective gear all the time. It is tiring for the staff, there's no question about it."
In turn, the hospital system has been offering extra counseling and support services to its COVID-19 team, he said. Community members have been showing their appreciation, too, by sending food and offering words of encouragement, among other kind gestures.
Northshore leaders communicated closely with Glenview from the start, coordinating weekly calls with the village and other local governmental agencies to keep everyone appraised of the situation, said Lynne Stiefel, the village's communications manager.
Some residents asked early on if the concentration of COVID-19 cases at Glenbrook Hospital would skew the public health data and give off the impression that Glenview is a hot spot for the virus, Stiefel said.
In reality, she said, deaths are attributed to the town of residence, not where the death occurred.
The Cook County medical examiner's office reported that as of Monday, COVID-19-related illnesses had claimed the lives of 48 people in Glenview and 39 in Northbrook since March 16. Overall, the county has suffered 4,483 COVID-19-related deaths, 2,040 of them in the suburbs.
Glenview has had 526 confirmed cases of COVID-19, a rate of 1,177 per 100,000 population, according to the Cook County Department of Public Health. Northbrook has had 333 cases, a rate of 1,004 per 100,000.
Beyond the data question, Stiefel said, the community appeared to be "extremely supportive" of the hospital's efforts.
"Glenbrook Hospital has always been a community asset," Stiefel said. "We've always been proud to have them in our area and certainly were as proud as (ever) that they were responding so wonderfully to the COVID-19 pandemic. It's been a very positive relationship."
With coronavirus caseloads decreasing, Glenbrook Hospital is once again adapting to the circumstances, Hall said. The third and fifth floors of its inpatient pavilion are being converted back into general medical floors, where other patients are being treated for the first time in months.
But that doesn't mean the focus on the pandemic will stop, he said. Some equipment may be set aside for now, and some employees may return to their other specialties, but the hospital will continue treating coronavirus patients for "quite a while."
"Everything we did to create the COVID hospital at Glenbrook is still in place," he said. "In the event that it resurges for whatever reason, we will simply turn the knob back. We will be prepared."