As hospitals brace for what may be a post-Thanksgiving surge within a surge of COVID-19 patients, Advocate Aurora Health says it worries about having enough staffing.
Straddling Illinois and Wisconsin, Advocate Aurora Health is experiencing its highest inpatient case count of the pandemic, said Dr. Jeff Bahr, chief medical officer of the system's Wisconsin operations. The fear is that Thanksgiving gatherings may result in an even greater surge in the coming weeks, Bahr said during a Zoom press conference this morning.
As of this morning, the 26-hospital Advocate Aurora system had 1,118 COVID patients. The system's highest inpatient population during the first wave of the virus was 863 on May 6.
The system has moved to bring in travel nurses it hopes will be available in late November and December, perhaps to contend with the effect of holiday superspreader events in the community, said Mary Beth Kingston, the system's chief nursing officer. Advocate Aurora also is providing employees pay incentives to increase their hours and is using students, recently retired nurses and volunteers to fill support roles, including COVID-19 screening, she said.
"We're in for a very difficult next few months," Pritzker said at his daily COVID briefing today, adding that he fears what's coming. "We can expect much worse to come if mitigation efforts aren't followed."
Cook County Health has halted elective surgeries that require inpatient stays to keep beds available and is moving as many outpatient visits as possible to telehealth, Deborah Song, the system's public affairs director, said in an email.
"Like other hospitals, our limitations will be related more to the availability of staff (rather than) beds," she said. "Strict visitor restrictions remain in place and we have more employees teleworking."
At University of Chicago Medicine, "the two most critical resources at this time are ICU capacity and operating room staffing levels, although both are currently sufficient to maintain services," Dr. Jeffrey Matthews, chair of the department of surgery at UChcago Medicine, said in an emailed statement. "During the initial stages of the pandemic, the University of Chicago Medicine established what is now a widely accepted framework to ethically triage medically necessary, time-sensitive surgical procedures. We are using this framework to make decisions about nonessential surgery, although we have not yet had to cancel or postpone cases across the board during the current surge. "
Rush University Medical Center has not yet halted elective surgeries or had to change staffing procedures.
"In the first wave we shut down everything else; it's just not a reality this time. We don't have to do that," said Dr. Patrick Casey, Rush's chief medical officer. The hospital is expanding its emergency department operations into its Brennan Pavilion lobby area to deal with increased emergency visits, he said.
NorthShore University HealthSystem's Glenbrook Hospital recently returned to being the system's dedicated COVID-19 hospital for inpatients. The system also has started postponing some elective surgeries on a case-by-case basis.
This story first appeared in our sister publication, Crain's Chicago Business.