covid surge

COVID Hospitalizations at ‘All-Time High' at Chicago-Area Hospital System

As of Monday, Advocate Aurora was treating nearly 1,500 inpatients with COVID-19

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A Chicago-area health care system is dealing with record COVID-19 hospitalizations as cases surge across Illinois and nationwide.

Advocate Aurora Health said it was treating 1,491 inpatients with COVID on Monday. At the same time, the 26-hospital system is also managing a critical labor shortage.

"Ninety two percent of our inpatients are either unvaccinated, have only received the first dose of the vaccine or are due for a booster," said Mary Beth Kingston, chief nursing officer at Advocate Aurora Health.

"Of the 8% who are fully vaccinated, most had an underlying condition or were immunocompromised," she said.

With COVID cases soaring, Illinois leaders have asked hospitals to consider postponing non-emergency surgeries. Even before the governor’s request, a suburban hospital had to make that tough choice as doctors there treat a record number of COVID patients. NBC 5’s Lauren Petty reports.

Kingston says the hospital system was experiencing a staffing shortage prior to the latest surge but now calls it a top priority aside from patient care. She says the shortage has accelerated due to fatigue, stress and as team members become ill or are exposed to COVID.

"Some of that was due to the emotional and physical toll the pandemic has taken on team members. Some of that is due to other factors either in the work environment or in our supply of nurses," Kingston said.

To address the shortage, Advocate Aurora is offering financial incentives, and mental health and wellbeing programs. Kingston says the hospital system is making quiet rooms available to stressed out staff and providing snacks on unit floors.

They're also training staff who are not direct care providers to take on new roles.

The hospital system is also managing capacity by postponing nonessential or emergency surgeries.

"When needed, we have paused, rescheduled or dialed back nonessential, elective procedures and surgeries depending on local case numbers, staffing scenarios and bed availability," said Dr. Jeff Bahr, chief medical group officer at Advocate Aurora.

"In some cases, we’ve moved patients to different Advocate Aurora sites and facilities to more effectively manage bed capacity," he said.

On Monday, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker reiterated his call to all hospitals in the state.

"Last week, I joined the Illinois Health and Hospital Association in urging providers to postpone non-emergency surgeries so they can use existing staff to expand ICU capacity wherever possible. We have also adopted the CDC’s updated guidance for healthcare professionals to shorten the amount of time they need to be out if they are exposed to COVID or catch COVID themselves," Pritkzer said during a media briefing.

The positivity rate in Chicago is 17.2%, and 12.8% statewide, according to data published Monday. As COVID cases surge, hospitals are once again taking steps to mitigate the spread.

Advocate Aurora has implemented a no-visitor policy. They're also asking asymptomatic patients with low risk to test at home, instead of crowding overwhelmed emergency rooms.

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