Medical personnel at Mount Sinai Hospital on Chicago’s West Side opened trailers and tents in their parking lot Wednesday to receive and assess more and more people feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For decades, Mount Sinai has been a safety net for the city's poor and has long been on the front lines when it comes to gunshot victims. Located at the corner of 15th and California, it is the largest safety net hospital in the state, serving a population who often cannot afford medical care.
Now, brown Rapid Mobile Assessment trailers and tents sit outside the hospital, operating as an extension of the emergency room to separate virus patients from those with other medical needs.
"The process will be you walk up, and I ask you what you are here for,” explained nurse Raquel Prendkowski, the hospital’s director for emergency preparedness. “If you are here for ankle pain, we’ll point you to emergency. If you are here because you are not really feeling well, we’ll point you to the trailers.”
As of Wednesday, there were 38 pending cases and four confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Dr. Jaime Moreno is the medical director who told NBC 5, "at this stage we don’t have the luxury of being able to test every single patient that comes in. So, we are conserving our testing kits and only testing patients that are sick enough to be admitted."
Like other hospitals, the coronavirus has stretched the hospital, both in terms of staffing and finances.
"We are on a very limited budget as it is,” Prendkowski said, "so this catastrophe has really put us in a predicament."
The pending Senate and House deal allocating $130 billion to U.S. hospitals will mean extra funds for a facility that will still have to operate on the margins.
"We have a lot of patients without insurance," said Moreno. "We have a lot of patients on Medicaid. We are the largest safety net system in Illinois. So, we really need all the help we can get."
The trailers, officials emphasize, are not equipped to test the walking well but to assess those who feel sick—and to help staff brace for the expected surge in illness.
“I just really want to highlight the staff…I’m going to cry,” said Prendkowski. “They are incredible. They are coming in contact with the unknown, which they do all the time and they do it fearlessly."