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Illinois Hospitals Should Postpone Non-Emergency Surgeries As State Faces Post-Holiday COVID Surge, Pritzker Says

Illinois, already in the midst of a record-breaking COVID-19 wave, could see a post-holiday surge on top of that. Officials asked hospitals to take steps to avoid being overwhelmed by patients.

Mount Sinai Hospital.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — Officials are calling for Illinois hospitals to postpone non-emergency surgeries as the state, already in the midst of a record-breaking COVID-19 surge, faces a “likely surge of post-holiday Omicron COVID-19 cases.”

Gov. JB Pritzker and the Illinois Health and Hospital Association made the plea in a Thursday evening news release. They’re asking hospitals to “take every possible measure to maintain and expand bed capacity” to ensure there’s enough space for the COVID-19 patients expected to come soon, according to a Governor’s Office news release.

Hospitals are urged, but not required, to postpone non-emergency surgeries for the time being.

“The state and hospitals throughout Illinois are continuing to work in concert to prevent the state’s health care infrastructure from being overwhelmed by the ongoing Omicron variant surge of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations,” according to the Governor’s Office. “By working closely together over the course of this pandemic, this partnership has prevented Illinois from exceeding capacity, unlike other states.

“Throughout Illinois, hospital admissions are rapidly increasing, further diminishing ICU bed capacity. Holiday gatherings are anticipated to drive an increase in the coming weeks, placing an additional strain on Illinois’ hospitals and healthcare workers.”

Hospitals should follow the state health department’s guidance for deciding when to postpone elective surgeries that procedures that could be rescheduled without risking a patient’s health, according to the Governor’s Office.

RELATED: Chicago Hospitals Struggle With Staffing, Beds As Omicron Surge Hits, With Majority Of Cases Among Unvaccinated

The state is seeing about 500 new people being hospitalized per day with COVID-19, Dr. Ngozi Ezike, head of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said in the news release. As of Wednesday night, 1,010 people with COVID-19 were in the ICU and 565 people with COVID-19 were using ventilators in Illinois.

With hospitalizations going up, officials are worried they’ll run out of space — and won’t have enough health care workers for all the COVID-19 patients.

“There is a health care worker shortage in Illinois, in the U.S., and across the world,” Ezike said. “We want to make sure that there is a hospital bed available for anyone for any reason: cancer complications, appendicitis, stroke, heart attack, car crash or COVID-19.”

Locally, city and Chicago hospital leaders spoke last week about how they were already worried about staffing and having enough space available for all patients.

With so much COVID-19 spreading in the community, more health care workers are getting sick — which means they’re unable to care for the people who are being hospitalized.

“With Omicron cases doubling every two to three days, our health systems are likely at risk of becoming rapidly overwhelmed,” Dr. Susan Bleasdale, chief quality officer for University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System, said at a news conference last week. “Our biggest concern is we will not have the beds or the staff to care for our patients should the number of COVID-19 cases continue to increase.”

Cases do appear to be “very mild” in the health care workers who are vaccinated and have gotten a booster shot — but the fact that those people have to stay out of work does significantly impact hospital operations, Bleasedale said.

Arwady said last week the city could look at limiting elective procedures or changing standards of care levels if there’s a risk of hospitals being overwhelmed, as well.

“Since very, very early in COVID, we’ve been working closely with all of the hospitals across Chicago on a daily basis,” Arwady said. “They are telling us what their availability is, and we’ve been really clear, particularly with this surge, that we don’t just mean how many beds do you have — we mean how many beds do you have that you are able to staff.

“… We have learned a lot about how to flex and grow, but we have also learned we need to act when it is necessary.”

Health officials across Chicago said the vast majority of people hospitalized or dying from COVID-19 are unvaccinated.

They’ve urged people to get their shots and to get a booster shot so they can be protected and protect the people around them.

Arwady said the city has no plans to turn McCormick Place back into a hospital, as was done in the early days of the pandemic, but officials have learned how to pivot to increase capacity if there’s a risk the health care system will be overwhelmed.

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