Three suburban hospitals hit licensed ICU capacity, but have space thanks to surge preps

WGN Investigates

CHICAGO — Three north suburban hospitals reached their licensed Intensive Care capacity Wednesday, but officials say they can still handle ICU patients because they constructed overflow space fearing this day would come.

While the numbers change by the hour, Northwestern Medicine’s Lake Forest Hospital, Vista Medical Center in Waukegan and Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville reported reaching their licensed Intensive Care capacity Wednesday night.  

It’s believed to be the first time an Illinois hospital has reached its licensed limits during the COVID-19 pandemic, but all three facilities say they can still take care of the most seriously ill thanks to “surge capacity” they added in preparation for an influx in coronavirus cases.

“I’m not concerned today, tomorrow or the day after about our ability to take care of our community,” said Jeffrey Kopin, Chief Medical Officer Northwestern’s Lake Forest Hospital. “By no means have we been hit by a surge of patients that we cannot handle.”

Chris Covelli of the Lake County Joint Information Center said there are also several other hospitals in the area that can handle ICU patients, in addition to “a sufficient supply of ventilators for those who need ventilators in ICU.”

The major goal of the governor’s stay-at-home order and social distancing measures has been to slow the spread of the virus so hospitals aren’t overwhelmed with patients in need of critical care.

While hundreds of beds are ready at a backup hospital facility constructed inside McCormick Place, it has yet to see any patients. The state is also building out capacity at several closed hospitals in the suburbs.

“We know that region has some hospitals that are filling up, but other hospitals do have capacity.  And just a few miles further there’s other hospitals in Region 8 that have available beds,” IDPH Director Ngozi Ezike said Thursday. “We are not seeing an indication to open McCormick yet, but we are following closely the capacity in all of the regions.”

Kopin points out 60 COVID-19 patients have been treated and released from their Lake Forest hospital in recent weeks.

“I don’t want anyone to be concerned that an admission to one of our acute care hospitals is tantamount to a death sentence.  Nothing could be further from the truth. We’re having a lot of success dealing with our COVID patients,” Kopin said.

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