Some Illinois hospitals are filling up as COVID-19 cases surge, making ICU beds in tight supply

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Lisa Schencker, Chicago Tribune
·4 min read
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A number of hospitals in northwest and central Illinois are filling up — and at least one ran out of intensive care unit beds — amid the latest COVID-19 surge.

Recent spikes in cases have been seen across the state, including in the Chicago area where ICU bed availability is also down, though not as severely. Even as some coronavirus metrics in Illinois have improved slightly this week, certain hospitals are continuing to feel squeezed.

About a half dozen Illinois hospitals operated by OSF HealthCare had at least 90% of their beds filled Tuesday, said Dr. Michael Cruz, chief operating officer.

OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria was at 97% occupancy as of Tuesday morning. OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center in Rockford was at 96%, and OSF St. Joseph Medical Center in Bloomington had no available intensive care unit beds, Cruz said.

OSF has been transferring patients to other hospitals, both within and outside its system, and moving staff as needed, he said. It’s also been having some patients wait in beds in emergency departments until intensive care unit spots become available.

“The boarding of patients in some of our emergency departments is a real problem because you’re getting suboptimal care if you’re not in the ICU being managed by intensivists,” Cruz said.

Statewide, 2,288 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Monday night, up from 1,648 about two weeks earlier. Some areas have been hit harder than others, including northwest Illinois and parts of central Illinois, which had 7-day rolling averages of 85% and 83% of their ICU beds filled Monday, respectively, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Chicago and suburban Cook County also have been struggling with ICU bed availability in recent days, though not as dramatically. Chicago had a 7-day rolling average of 78% of its ICU beds filled, and suburban Cook County had 81%, as of Monday.

Amita Health, which has 14 acute care hospitals in Illinois, is also nearing capacity at some of its hospitals, said Dr. Stuart Marcus, chief clinical officer and executive vice president. But he said that’s not just because of COVID-19. Rather, it’s a combination of COVID-19 patients, patients with scheduled procedures, and patients who are sicker than usual for other reasons — which Marcus said he suspects is a result of people putting off care during the pandemic.

Amita has not had to transfer patients or cut back on elective surgeries, he said.

“To me, it does feel like a busy flu season,” Marcus said. “We’re working hard and we’re handling it, but we’re not overwhelmed at this point.”

NorthShore University HealthSystem, which has six hospitals in the Chicago area, said it’s seeing higher numbers of COVID-19 patients but still has room. During the peaks of the first and second surges in Illinois, NorthShore had about 180 to 200 COVID-19 patients at once at its Glenbrook and Evanston hospitals. Lately, it’s had about 40 to 60 at the same time, said Dr. Neil Freedman, division head for pulmonary and critical care at NorthShore.

During this most recent surge, COVID-19 patients at NorthShore and Amita seem to be younger. Most of those in the ICU at Glenbrook Hospital in Glenview are between the ages of 40 and 65, Freedman said. At Amita, only about 5% of COVID-19 patients are older than 85, and about 15% are younger than 50, Marcus said.

Most of Illinois opened vaccinations to all adults April 12, and Chicago followed suit April 19. As of Tuesday, nearly 27% of Illinois residents had been fully vaccinated, including about 65% of people ages 65 and older.

Many of OSF’s COVID patients are elderly individuals who did get not vaccinated, Cruz said.

NorthShore hospitals have seen some COVID-19 patients who caught the illness despite being vaccinated, Freedman said. But most of those people had suppressed immune systems, which could explain why the vaccines weren’t as effective for them, he said.

Amita has also seen some of those patients, but they tend to have milder cases than those who were not vaccinated, Marcus said.