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Health and Medicine
WGLT's reporting on the coronavirus pandemic, which began in McLean County in March 2020.

Analysis: Moderate COVID-19 Spike Could Strain B-N Hospitals

Tent outside hospital
Warner Hospital and Health Services
A heated tent was just erected outside Clinton’s Warner Hospital emergency room as a precautionary measure. It’s not being used yet but would provide additional triage space in case of a sudden influx of patients due to COVID-19.";s:

A new analysis shows how easily Bloomington-Normal’s hospitals could become strapped for space even if a moderate-case COVID-19 scenario comes to pass.

In the Harvard Global Health Institute’s moderate scenario, 40% of the adult population will contract the disease over the course of a year. Many have mild or no symptoms and will not have their diagnoses confirmed by tests. Slightly more than a fifth of all cases will require hospitalization. (That’s roughly the average number of patients requiring hospitalization in other countries.)

If that happens, Bloomington-Normal would be among the regions that would need to expand hospital-bed capacity, according to the Harvard data and analysis by ProPublica. As of 2018, the Bloomington hospital referral region had 390 total hospital beds, of which about 49% were occupied, potentially leaving only 200 beds open for additional patients, ProPublica reported.

“It is estimated that about 8% of the adult population would require hospital care. In a moderate scenario where 40% of the population is infected over a 12-month period, hospitals in (Bloomington-Normal) would receive an estimated 13,200 coronavirus patients. The influx of patients would require 440 beds over 12 months, which is 2.2 times the available beds in that time period,” ProPublica reported.

Intensive care units could be especially overwhelmed and require additional capacity. Bloomington-Normal has 35 beds in intensive care units, according to data from the American Hospital Association and the American Hospital Directory. Without coronavirus patients, there are only 10 available beds on average in intensive care units, which is 9.3 times less than what is needed to care for all severe cases, according to ProPublica and the Harvard data.

Bed capacity is a concern with any pandemic or infectious disease, said Melissa Graven, communicable disease supervisor with the McLean County Health Department. Hospitals train for emergencies just like this, Graven said.

“If we don’t do the social distancing that we’re being asked to do and maintain good hygiene, no, we won’t (have enough resources),” Graven said Wednesday. “It doesn’t matter how many hospital beds and ventilators and doctors and nurses we have. If we don’t slow this down, there will not be enough.”

ICU capacity could be the real chokepoint for many hospitals in America, Eric Toner, of Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told NPR this week.

There are a finite number of ventilators across the U.S., including in a strategic national stockpile that is thought to have several thousand ventilators available to hospitals if needed.

"For the average American city we would probably need twice the normal intensive care capacity than we normally have," said Toner.

And social distancing isn’t just about slowing down the number of people seeking treatment. It’s also about protecting health care workers.

“I applaud everybody who’s doing the social distancing. That’s wonderful. We just need to keep it up,” Graven says, “so the beds are there, and the physicians and nurses and respiratory therapists are not getting sick and they don’t need to isolate for 14 days. We want to preserve our resources so we can slow this down and they’re there when we need them.”

Advocate Aurora Health, which operates Advocate BroMenn hospital in Normal, said “efforts are underway to expand testing and to prepare for increases in patient volume across our system.”

Advocate said Wednesday it’s updated its personal protective equipment (PPE) standards to help conserve supplies as it tests and cares for patients with COVID-19. This includes re-use of certain supplies, like N95 masks and eye protection, in line with CDC guidance.

“Supplies are limited across the United States, and we are closely monitoring the situation. We have the necessary supplies for now, but this is relative to the demand, which we know will increase significantly,” Advocate said.

OSF HealthCare runs Bloomington-Normal’s other hospital, OSF St. Joseph Medical Center, which has 14 ICU beds.

“We have an emergency operations plan that contains a surge plan that will allow us to increase our general and/or ICU beds as needed, pending the availability of staff. OSF St. Joseph has been running through those scenarios with our leaders, mission partners and medical staff. We presently have no shortage of providers,” an OSF spokesperson said.

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