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Chicago to re-open shuttered hospitals, use hotels for COVID-19 patients
Chicago officials are close to inking a deal to reopen a suburban hospital to provide more acute hospital care as coronavirus cases increase.
MetroSouth Medical Center, a 314-bed hospital less than 20 miles from downtown Chicago closed last year amid dwindling patient volumes and rising operating costs, one of many community hospitals struggling to survive. Now the hospital could see new life as Chicago, like cities around the world, grapples with a potential surge in patients during the pandemic.
"Our hope is that we'll finish paperwork and ink the deal in the next day or so," Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Tuesday. "There's a lot of paperwork . . . (and) 'whereas' clauses that go into standing up a closed hospital. We're hard at work on that."
Lightfoot also intends to repurpose rooms at five Chicago hotels to house those in isolation due to COVID-19 to ease the burden on hospitals and bolster hotels whose occupancies have taken a major hit.
The city expects to be able to house 1,000 patients by tomorrow and likely 2,000 by the end of the week. The new beds will alleviate hospitals' burden and allow them to focus on their most critical patients as more test positive for the virus, city officials said.
As of today, 63% of the 2,589 intensive care unit beds in hospitals across Illinois were occupied, as were 59% of medical/surgical beds and 32% of ventilators, which are used to help patients with severe COVID-19 symptoms breathe, according to data from the state's Department of Public Health.
The state has slightly increased its capacity of beds and ventilators since March 16, when 73% of the 2,578 ICU beds and 40% of the 2,144 ventilators were in use.
"It's one thing to have the infrastructure," Dr. Stephen Parodi, associate executive director for Permanente Medical Group, said during a teleconference today. "You have to have the people and the materials and the equipment." Depending on what states like Illinois need, they made choose to use alternative venues, including recently shuttered hospitals, to provide standard medical care as opposed to intensive care for COVID-19, Parodi said.
Nearly 15,000 rooms have been identified statewide that can be used to house patients, and the number is growing, said Michael Jacobson, president and CEO of the Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association.
The rooms will serve as housing for those who do not need to be hospitalized but need a place to isolate or quarantine safely, including first responders, health care workers, the homeless, and victims of domestic violence and human trafficking.
Chicago Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said the rooms will be used to temporarily house people who are waiting for test results but who can't return home, to quarantine high-risk healthy individuals who can't be at home because an ill person might be there, and to isolate people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 with a mild illness but can't return home because of their living situation.
"Owners are interested in stepping up and offering rooms," Jacobson said, adding that it will not be a "typical hotel stay—we're providing urgently needed housing" with minimal staffing, fresh linens and meals.
Public health officials will be the only ones interacting with those in isolation and quarantine, but hotel officials will be extensively trained on how to handle linens and food. As the program expands, Arwady said the city would be "looking to other city staff and volunteers or temporary staff" to help.
Separately, Lightfoot announced that three Chicago YMCA locations will offer a place for Chicago's homeless to stay to help depopulate existing shelters. City officials estimate the the Y locations will create roughly 400 additional shelter beds and let current shelters meet social distancing practices, and another 500 beds will be added at other sites later this week.
Julie Dworkin, policy director for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, estimates around 2,800 additional beds for the homeless are needed in Chicago amid the crisis. The system will become more stressed as jails release low-risk prisoners and as others might be pushed into homelessness because of unemployment. Advocates are hoping for state and federal help.
This story first appeared in our sister publication, Crain's Chicago Business.
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