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Rush-Copley, Valley West hospitals monitoring COVID-19 spread, have 'surge' plans in place

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While there may not be any hospitals located within Kendall County lines, officials from hospitals that serve the county said they are preparing as best as they can for potential surges in COVID-19 coronavirus cases.

Jay Anderson, president of Northwestern Medicine's Kishwaukee Hospital in DeKalb and Valley West Hospital in Sandwich, said the hospitals already have rescheduled non-emergency procedures to help free up as many beds and other resources as possible for COVID-19 treatment.

Anderson said staff is pleased so far with the hospitals' current situations with capacity and projected cases over time. He said this is a situation no one can 100% predict or quantify and it all depends on how flattened that curve ends up being.

“But we’re all watching on a daily basis,” Anderson said.

The update comes after Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker said there are 2,600 ICU beds across the state, with 1,100 currently available, as of Tuesday, March 24. The state has 26,000 non-ICU hospital beds, with 13,000 currently available.

The state also has 2,200 ventilators, with 1,600 currently available, as of Tuesday. Many COVID-19 patients who are hospitalized require intensive-care treatment with ventilators and worst-case scenarios indicate the state could need 4,100 more ventilators.

The hospitals aren't providing a specific number of ventilators that they have on hand because the number will change as more equipment becomes available or equipment is reallocated.

However, Anderson said, the hospitals have the capacity to expand to intensive care units, or in ICU, though that "capacity is not infinite" for the hospitals.

“And that is resource that we are trying to make sure we have enough capacity for,” Anderson said.

There are 210 total beds at Rush Copley Medical Center in Aurora. Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital in DeKalb has 98 total beds and Northwestern Medicine Valley West Hospital in Sandwich has 25 total beds.

Mary Shilkaitis, chief operating officer for Rush Copley Medical Center in Aurora, said the medical provider also has been canceling or rescheduling elective surgeries and non-emergency appointments to keep people home that don’t need to be out and about and to make room in hospitals for potential surge planning.

Shilkaitis said there are now more systems in place to help identify patients before they enter hospital and limit potential exposure. She said workloads have shifted for staff to help meet the needs that come with potential surges in COVID-19 cases and the hospital has an isolation unit in place for those patients.

“That unit is up and running and doing very, very well,” Shilkaitis said.

Anderson said testing remains a national issue. He said the healthcare provider network has the capacity to test for COVID-19 internally for in-patients, with a "fairly rapid turn around" rate of 24 hours for patients in the most critical condition.

“We are not seeing that surge of patients [as of Wednesday, March 25 that exceeds capacity that we already have,” Anderson said.

Shilkaitis said Rush Copley hospital staff feels like they have what they need for ventilators per predictive analytics for the coronavirus. She said respiratory therapy staff also has been working with hospital staff and, if necessary, the hospital has plans to use other machines, like those used for anesthesia, as ventilators.

“So we feel pretty comfortable with that as the situation presents right now,” Shilkaitis said.

Shilkaitis said she absolutely expects the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 to increase each day. The more the hospital tests, she said, the more cases they will start to see.

“It’s a matter of what percent of those positives can go home … and what percent of those positives that need a hospitalized setting,” Shilkaitis said.

Anderson said those who are home sick are still being encouraged to contact their primary care physician and the doctor will either screen them or defer them to the Northwestern Medicine phone hotline at 312-47-COVID.

From there, Anderson said, the doctor may order the patient to get tested after being screened. He said drive-through testing also has already been set up in front of Kishwaukee Hospital through Quest.

Anderson said another thing for the public to be aware of is there have been new visitor policies enacted for hospital patients to help limit COVID-19 coronavirus exposure to hospital patients and staff. He said staff is working hard to make sure patients remain connected in a safe way, with FaceTime being the most common tool.

“We do believe that social connection is an important part of healing process,” Anderson said.

Shilkaitis said those video calling apps have been used for grandparents wanting to see their grandchildren for the first time, for example. However, she said, those apps including FaceTime have been used for all types of hospitalized patients and not just for expectant mothers.

“It can be a very lonely hospitalization without visitors,” Shilkaitis said.

Overall, Shilkaitis said, Rush Copley hospital staff is as ready as they can be for this unprecedented situation.

“But we can’t underestimate that we’re all walking that tightrope of the unexpected and we’re doing our best to prepare for the unexpected,” Shilkaitis said.

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