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Chicago-area hospitals are taking steps to keep employees safe and prevent a shortage of healthcare workers as the coronavirus spreads.
Rush University Medical Center, NorthShore University HealthSystem and Amita Health are among Chicago-area hospitals screening patients with flu-like symptoms to see if they're at an increased risk for coronavirus—the first step before diagnostic testing. Meanwhile, University of Chicago Medicine had already implemented visitor restrictions due to the increase of severe illness from the flu. Among the goals: Keeping staffers as safe as possible from the virus and healthy enough to continue treating others.
There is a concern among health systems nationwide that "even if you do everything right, you could still have an exposure," Rush CEO Dr. Omar Lateef said. "If you have multiple exposures at the same time … the impression is there will be staff shortages."
Patients are also being screened in emergency departments across five-hospital NorthShore University HealthSystem "to ensure safety and reduce staff exposure," according to the organization's website. Additionally, high-touch surfaces like door handles, computer keyboards and chairs are being frequently disinfected.
At 19-hospital Amita Health, all frontline associates are instructed to screen patients in accordance with CDC guidelines to ensure anyone infected is quickly isolated, Dr. Stuart Marcus, executive vice president and chief clinical officer, said in an emailed statement.
"However," Marcus added, "it's becoming quickly apparent we won't be able to fully contain the spread of this virus. We anticipate treatment guidelines will evolve to mimic how we care for other viral infections, such as the annual flu."
Healthcare providers should take a "conservative approach" when it comes to monitoring employees to quickly identify symptoms and prevent transmission to other workers, patients and visitors, according to the CDC's latest guidance for healthcare personnel. For example, workers without personal protective equipment who had prolonged close contact with an infected patient are being advised to not work for 14 days after the last exposure. Workers wearing recommended personal protective equipment in the same scenario, however, are only being advised to self-monitor with oversight. If a patient turns out to have the virus but doesn't immediately disclose important information, such as recent travel to an infected area, there's a better chance healthcare workers will be exposed.
Anybody who interacted with that patient would be pulled out of active care and asked to quarantine themselves at home, as authorities have advised, Lateef said. He added that the confirmed case treated at Rush earlier this month was somewhat unique since there was a high probability that the patient was infected before being seen, enabling the hospital to avoid exposure.
This article was originally published in Crain's Chicago Business.