Midwest hospitals running as usual despite freezing temps
It was pretty much business as usual for many hospitals throughout the Midweset even as cold weather reached record-breaking low. Temperatures reached 20 degrees below zero in places like Minneapolis overnight Tuesday and throughout the day on Wednesday.
At Hennepin County Medical Center, 19 people were treated for frostbite as of Wednesday afternoon. On Tuesday evening the health system closed its pediatric clinic but it was reopened as of Wednesday.
Overall the cold has not affected operations, with staffing at near full capacity and a slight uptick in appointment cancellations, according to Dr. James Miner, chief of emergency medicine at Hennepin.
Miner said the hospital has thus far not had to activate its plan for emergencies or disasters. A concern in the days prior to the cold spell was trying to figure out where to place the expected influx of local homeless who would come to the ED to get warm, according to Dr. James Miner, chief of emergency medicine at Hennepin.
"It's really hard to discharge them when the weather is like this," Miner said. "But the local shelters have really stepped up their efforts to get people in."
A similar scenario took place at Cleveland-based, University Hospitals, where COO Ron Dziedzicki said all 15 hospitals within the system were open and running at full capacity on Wednesday.
Dziedzicki said coffee and hot chocolate was being served in hospital lobbies while in the pediatric clinics volunteers were handing out blankets that were donated for children leaving the facility.
He said the health system several years ago began implementing a daily safety call within its main hospital to provide pertinent information regarding extreme weather conditions. Dziedzicki said many of the emergency contingency plans occurred later last week when 12 inches of snow fell on the city, according to the National Weather Service.
Designated sleep areas were created in case employees needed to stay at the hospital overnight due to hazardous travel conditions. Dziedzicki said much of those plans were still in place if needed.
"Right now, we haven't had anything pop up," Dziedzicki said. "The funny part is the way the weather is going to work we're expecting it to be 49 degrees and rainy by Monday—so we'll be worried about flooding in parts of the Northeast Ohio community."
In Chicago, temperatures of minus 14 degrees led to store and school closures, major service delays on the city's two busiest commuter train lines, and the suspension of mail deliveries in the city and its surrounding parts on Wednesday.
But the area's hospitals were up and running. Cook County Health and Hospitals System CEO Dr. Jay Shannon said he'd seen only a slight increase in the number of patients being treated for frost bite, but he expected more to occur as rising but still frigid temperatures draw more people outdoors.
The immediate plan involved making sure facilities had adequate supplies, as well as redoubling efforts over the past few days to promptly discharge patients when appropriate. He said patients are asked whether they have heat in their homes prior to discharge.
The hospital reviewed all elective procedures planned for Wednesday and rescheduled any frail patients. Shannon said extra efforts were made to ensure both the system's patient transportation and employee shuttle services remained operational with no delays and disruptions due to mechanical problems.
Shannon said the health system had the capacity and was ready to provide overnight lodging and a meal for staff.
Like CCHHS, neighboring health system Loyola University Medical Center began expediting patient discharges in the days leading up to Wednesday's cold temperatures.
According to a spokeswoman, the hospital was not taking non-urgent patient transfers during the weather emergency to prevent patients from exposure to extreme temperatures. Six people were treated at Loyola for frostbite as of Wednesday, four of which were admitted to the hospital, she said.
Rush University Medical Center had closed some of its outpatient clinics due to the extreme weather.
Send us a letter
Have an opinion about this story? Click here to submit a Letter to the Editor, and we may publish it in print.