COVID-19 update: Suburban hospitals say they're 'busy' but not as bad as other parts of state

  • Nurse Gretchen Rodriguez cares for a patient with COVID-19 at Elmhurst Hospital in December 2020.

    Nurse Gretchen Rodriguez cares for a patient with COVID-19 at Elmhurst Hospital in December 2020. Courtesy of Edward-Elmhurst Health

  • Nurse Nikki Carini-Wardecki prepares a COVID-19 vaccination at Edward Hospital in Naperville. Of Illinois' 12.7 million population, 53% have been fully vaccinated.

    Nurse Nikki Carini-Wardecki prepares a COVID-19 vaccination at Edward Hospital in Naperville. Of Illinois' 12.7 million population, 53% have been fully vaccinated. John Starks | Staff Photographer, December 2020

 
 
Updated 9/3/2021 6:28 AM

Experts at two suburban hospitals characterized their COVID-19 situations as "challenging" and "busy" Thursday but not overwhelming compared to rural parts of Illinois, where patients are swamping ICU units.

During June's pandemic lull, COVID-19 hospitalizations averaged 614 a day across the state in contrast with the current seven-day average of 2,217, Illinois Department of Public Health data showed Thursday.

 

"Since the beginning of July, we've seen a 15-fold increase of patients in the hospital and a significant increase in the ones in our intensive care unit," said Dr. James Keller, chief medical officer at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge.

"It's not overwhelming us, but it is creating a busier environment, and as these surges continue to pop up, they challenge us as we're trying to continue to provide care to the community," Keller said.

At Elmhurst Hospital, "we do have room," said infection control and prevention manager Annemarie Schmocker, a nurse. "The hospital, though, is busy."

A week ago when Gov. J.B. Pritzker mandated masks indoors, he and IDPH Director Ngozi Ezike cited as one reason the low availability of ICU beds in southern Illinois.

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"We're now seeing our hospital resources stretched thin with some areas of Illinois reduced to only a handful of available ICU beds," Ezike said.

The statewide ICU bed availability is 16.8%. The IDPH considers it a red flag if availability goes lower than 20%. ICU availability is 6% as of Wednesday in Region 5 in southern Illinois, the state reported.

"It's all hands on deck," a nursing officer told The Southern Illinoisan regarding Southern Illinois Heathcare hospitals, including one in Carbondale.

In Lake and McHenry counties the ICU availability level is 18%. That number is 26% in Will and Kankakee counties and 21% in DuPage and Kane counties.

In suburban Cook County, "we are monitoring hospital capacity closely; ICU bed capacity is at 16% and we are seeing increases in the numbers of hospital beds in use," said Dr. Kiran Joshi, senior medical officer at Cook County Department of Public Health.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In April 2020 during the first virus surge, hospitalizations averaged 4,626 a day, and in Illinois' second outbreak in the fall of 2020, those daily averages were nearly 5,280.

Now, doctors and nurses are well-versed in how to treat the virus, and there are three vaccines available. But the fact that most COVID-19 patients at Elmhurst Hospital and Lutheran General are unvaccinated takes a toll on medical workers, Keller and Schmocker said separately.

Now, "it's getting difficult," Keller said. "They're dealing with a different type of issue in terms of how long this has been going on. They compartmentalize that ... and when it comes to providing care for the patients it never gets in their way."

With about 70% of Elmhurst Hospital COVID-19 patients unvaccinated, "it's discouraging for the staff," Schmocker said. "Of course they are very empathetic to those situations. But there's a lot of questions, (like,) 'What is the vaccine hesitancy out there? What continues to be the concern?'"

New cases of COVID-19 numbered 4,224 Thursday with 51 more people dying from the respiratory disease, as the number of Illinoisans who have perished from the virus surpassed 24,000, the state reported.

On Wednesday, 27,729 more COVID-19 shots were administered, the Illinois Department of Public Health announced. The seven-day average is 40,046.

The federal government has delivered 16,409,305 doses of vaccine to Illinois since distribution began in mid-December, and 13,978,485 shots have been administered.

So far, 6,764,410 people have been fully vaccinated or 53% of Illinois' 12.7 million population.

Patients in the hospital with COVID-19 came to 2,254 as of Wednesday night.

The state's positivity rate for COVID-19 cases, which has been hovering in the 5% range, lowered to 4.8% based on a seven-day average.

Total cases statewide stand at 1,532,344, and 24,030 Illinoisans have died since the pandemic began.

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