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Hospitals' staffing challenges continue as COVID cases drop

OSF St. Joseph Bloomington
Emily Bollinger
Bloomington-Normal hospitals have seen a sizeable drop in COVID-19 patients in recent weeks, but the chief medical officer at OSF St. Joseph Medical Center said the medical staff is still seeing more patients than usual.

Bloomington-Normal hospitals have seen a sizeable drop in COVID patients in recent weeks, but the chief medical officer at OSF St. Joseph Medical Center said the medical staff there is still seeing more patients than usual.

Dr. Rick Anderson said many people delayed elective surgeries or neglected routine health maintenance for too long.

“Many hospitals are still experiencing that post-COVID rush from patients that don’t have COVID, but didn’t seek medical care right away when COVID was in full bloom,” Anderson said.

Bloomington-Normal hospitals are at 89% capacity, according to data from the McLean County Health Department (MCHD), while the availability of ICU beds has dropped to 62%.

Rick Anderson.jpg
Rick Anderson

MCHD reported Thursday that 13 McLean County residents are hospitalized with COVID. That’s down from 28 on Oct. 11. OSF St. Joseph and Carle BroMenn Medical Center have 18 COVID patients receiving care.

Anderson said staffing remains a challenge as hospitals have had to rely more on travel nurses to cover shifts. Travel nurses work temporary assignments usually for better pay, though benefits can be less reliable.

“I think that lifestyle is a little less stressful. They can be a little bit more selective in what they choose and where they choose to do it,” Anderson said. “I think it’s been a big draw from nurses across the country.”

Anderson said he hopes the pending authorization of booster vaccines for Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, along with vaccines for children ages 5 to 11, will limit COVID spread this fall. “I’m hoping that we’ll finally get over the hump, where we won’t see these huge outbreaks anymore and they’ll be much more manageable,” he said.

He noted flu cases are up 25% compared with last year. While flu season was very mild last year, he said that raises the potential for flu and COVID to keep hospitals full without additional vaccinations.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson boosters, and authorized people to get a booster shot different from the original vaccine they received. Anderson noted a large study showed the Pfizer booster is 95% effective against the virus, but he said there’s not enough data yet to indicate the best combinations for people who mix vaccine doses.

“I don’t think there’s been any evidence that shows if you mix vaccines there’s any increase in side effects or adverse effects, and there is no data to show that if I mix Pfizer with Moderna it’s better than Johnson & Johnson with Pfizer,” said Anderson, adding the most important thing is for people to simply get a COVID vaccine.

The Centers for Disease Control, which has final say on vaccine guidance, has not yet formally endorsed those plans. Anderson said it appears these booster shots will be necessary to extend immunity.

“Just like the influenza vaccine isn’t good forever, the COVID vaccine has been shown that it’s not something that’s going to be like the measles vaccine that lasts your lifetime,” he said.

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, 55.1% of McLean County residents are fully vaccinated.

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