Chicago Hospital Braces for Surge of COVID-19 Patients as Staff Logs Grueling Hours

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Life-and-death decisions, 14-hour long days and families worried about their health. Those are among the things health care providers must contend with as city leaders warn that the area could see a significant increase in coronavirus cases.

Rapid Mobile Assessment trailers were installed Wednesday at Holy Cross Hospital on Chicago’s South Side. Like the ones put up at Mount Sinai last week, the trailers will be used for intake purposes, helping separate potential COVID-19 patients from those with other medical needs.

 The Sinai Health System operates on two medical campuses and both are safety net hospitals which help those most in need.

Currently, Mount Sinai has 35 coronavirus cases.

 “We are not full yet, but we are reaching capacity quickly,” nurse Raquel Prendowski, who is in charge of emergency preparedness there, said.“The ones who are sick are very sick.”

Prendowski said the hospital is bracing for a rapid increase, perhaps as much as 50 percent, of patients needing treatment for COVID-19.

 “If we go by what city officials are telling us, (we could see a surge) probably as early as next week,” said Dr. Jamie Moreno, the hospital’s medical director.

For now, there are enough masks and ventilators for the hospital to treat patients. The anticipated surge in cases could quickly test the facility’s limits, however.

The rapid increase in patient load, as well as the ongoing mental fatigue associated with dealing with the virus on a day in and day out basis, has been taxing both physically and emotionally for doctors, nurses and staff.

For Prendowski, her say begins long before sunup.

“We usually start the emails going back and forth starting at 5:30 in the morning,” she said.

She normally arrives at the hospital between 7 and 8 a.m. each morning, often returning home at 9 p.m. or later.  

“It’s been like this for a few weeks,” she said.

 Moreno said he normally arrives home around midnight.  “I fall asleep and at 6:00am my phone starts going off, text messages, phone calls, and meeting reminders, so they are very long days,” he said. “This is our duty, this is our calling, so that’s what we are here for and we will keep going as long as we have to.”

Moreno acknowledges that the toll the pandemic is having on his own young family has been tough to cope with.

“My five and a half year old does ask me, she does know the term coronavirus, so she asks me about it,” he said. “And I told her I’m very careful and I try my best to not get sick so don’t worry about that.”

 When asked if he had any further comments, Moreno replied politely. 

“If I have time to just thank everybody out there, everybody who has called the hospital, called myself, called the staff, either just words of support, offering to send in lunches, cookies, posting about us on social media, you guys for getting our word out, I would love to thank everybody that’s been helping us so far, it means a lot to us,” he said.

These types of gestures are just more evidence, Moreno said, that an act of kindness can go a very long way.

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