Chicago doctors describe what they’re seeing now and their concerns for what’s ahead

Medical Watch

CHICAGO — Health care heroes in their own words. From North to South, East to West, hospitals and health care workers are mobilized. Some are already inundated by increased patient loads and prepare for an even greater surge in the coming days

At Rush University Medical Center, the light-filled atrium lobby has been turned into a makeshift emergency room.

Dr Edward Ward is a Rush University Medical Center emergency medicine physician.

“We opened up the Brennan Pavilion so we could keep the non-COVID patients quarantined away from the patients with viruses or concern for virus,” he said. “So we could take care of them and get them out of here as fast as possible.”

There are 30 bays where doctors triage non-COVID-19 patients.

Monday afternoon, business was slow. Typical ER visits are down.

But there was more action out back where patients with suspected COVID-19 symptoms are evaluated in a converted ambulance bay.

 “We’re seeing about 80 to 90 patients a day that answer ‘Yes’ to a COVID screening test and go right away into the ambulance bay,” Ward said. “And about half of those are being admitted.”

Ward said up to 15 percent of those patients are admitted to the hospital’s intensive care unit with some requiring a ventilator.

 “The good news is that we have plenty of ventilators right now, plenty of space,” he said. “I can’t predict that is going to be the case as times goes on. There’s an awful lot of people working really hard to get the supplies, to get the space we need to take care of patients no matter what the demand.”

To the North, Chief of Emergency Medicine at NorthShore University HealthSystem, Dr Ernest Wang spoke to WGN News outside Evanston Hospital’s respiratory evaluation unit. It is housed inside an ambulance bay and is designed solely for patients with COVID-19-like symptoms.

 “We have 42 pods that we can take care of patients in,” he said. “If we have a big influx or surge, we can do a rapid assessment, figure out who needs higher level of care and put them in the Emergency Department or treat them all out here.”

Dr Wang says the NorthShore University HealthSystem team has not only seen an uptick in the number of patients testing positive for the virus, they’ve also tracked an increase in the severity of illness.

 “We are seeing people coming in that need to be in ICU, seeing people put on ventilators, and so as you see what is happening in New York City, we are starting to see that trend, too,” he said. “We are so well prepared. Our staff is tremendously courageous. They show up, put on their gear and they are good at what they do, and we have been blessed with tremendous resources and support.”

Dr Robert Feldman is in the Cook County Health Command Center. He works in the emergency room at Stroger Hospital, where healthcare workers with symptoms got swabbed for COVID-19 Monday.

Inside, Feldman said there has been a steady climb in patients and expects more in the coming week.

 “What we are going to see next week is already a done deal,” he said. “Whoever we are going to see next week are people who have already been infected.”

At Central DuPage Hospital in the western suburbs, hospital medicine physician Dr Kiumars Moghadam said he and his team are also preparing for a surge — physically and mentally.

 “I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a fair amount of anxiety. We see the news coming out of China and Italy, and this disease impacts health workers the same, if not worse, than other people,” he said. “So, obviously we see that and we’re concerned for our own safety as much as we are definitely concerned and would like to make sure that we are able to take the best care of all the patients that come through the door. We’ve all put our heads down and really tried to focus on the immense task at hand.”

Dr Michelle Prickett hasn’t slowed down. The pulmonary and critical care specialist at Northwestern Medicine has worked non-stop for the past two-weeks, taking care of the sickest patients — many on ventilators – and planning for more.

 “They are requiring longer stays, so they are on them for a long time,” she said. “So depending on how many more patients come in, that is the concern. Right now we are ok, but as COVID progresses, it’s a numbers game, and that is our biggest challenge preparing for that.”

At the same time, the hospital is looking at optimizing space to meet the unique demands of caring for patients with severe COVID-19 illness.

 “The patients that have COVID are in reverse isolation, meaning the air gets pulled out of their rooms so if they cough, it’s not everywhere in the room,” Prickett said. “So we’re having to transition our units themselves to prepare for that. Usually we only have a handful of those rooms in the whole hospital, so for the last two weeks, we’ve been working with the engineers to try and find the best use of our current space.”

But what’s helping her get through each day? It’s simple.

“I’m heartened by people just wanting to help,” she said. “And telling me ‘Thank you for what you do,’ is really helpful to hear that when things have been so disruptive and challenging.”

Healthcare workers under intense stress and risk for infection said it is that kind of support that protects their heart

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