Pritzker asks hospitals to halt nonemergency surgeries, save beds for virus patients

  • J.B. Pritzker

    J.B. Pritzker

Updated 12/31/2021 6:38 AM

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has asked hospital leaders throughout the state to postpone nonemergency surgeries in an effort to prepare for a potential bed shortage caused by the surge of new COVID-19 cases.

The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients is rapidly growing closer to the highest level the state has seen during the pandemic. There are 5,689 COVID-19 patients being treated in Illinois hospitals -- a figure that has grown 33% in a week.


At their peak last November, hospitals were treating nearly 6,200 COVID-19 patients, but the omicron variant is infecting unvaccinated residents at a much faster pace than previous strains of the deadly respiratory disease.

"We are preparing for a continuing post-holiday surge," Pritzker said. "With hospital staff already working so hard, I appreciate the work hospital leadership is doing to assure capacity, including postponing nonemergency surgeries and procedures to ensure their ability to handle serious COVID cases and other emergencies without putting patients at risk."

North Shore University Health System was one of the first hospital groups to announce it would follow the governor's request by canceling elective procedures at four hospitals from Monday through Jan. 14.

"Due to the dramatic increase in COVID hospitalizations, community positivity rates and our ongoing commitment to patient safety, North Shore is suspending all nonemergency elective procedures," said spokesman Jim Anthony. "Our decision was based on our current COVID clinical and operational protocols to ensure we are providing care and support where the needs are greatest across our health system."

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The Illinois Health and Hospital Association is also backing Pritzker's proposal to halt elective surgeries for the foreseeable future.

"Hospitals cannot end this pandemic on their own. They need the continuing help and support of the public," said A.J. Wilhelmi, president and CEO of the association. "The best way to support your hospitals is to get vaccinated."

Illinois Department of Public Health officials estimate roughly 80% to 90% of all hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Illinois are unvaccinated or have not received a booster shot.

"We are currently seeing approximately 500 new admissions a day to Illinois hospitals due to COVID-19, and approximately 90% of those are unvaccinated," said IDPH director Ngozi Ezike. "There is a health care worker shortage in Illinois, in the U.S. and across the world. We're seeing health care workers leave the profession because they are burnt out after watching people suffer severe illness and even death for almost two years now."

Of those currently hospitalized, 1,010 are in intensive care. Statewide, only 10.5% of all staffed ICU beds are available.

Hospital officials are concerned COVID-19 patients will overtake the available beds and make it difficult or impossible for someone who suffers a medical emergency to receive proper care.

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