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COVID tests the limits at OSF amid staff burnout and strained capacity

Lynn Fulton, president of OSF Healthcare, said that along with advances in treatment options, hospitals are naturally moving toward fewer beds.
Emily Bollinger
OSF HealthCare St. Joseph Medical Center in Bloomington is redirecting patients as far away as Iowa or Missouri for care.

Hospitals across the country are full as facilities become overrun by COVID patients. That’s true in McLean County too, where hospitals are turning transfer patients away due to a lack of space.

“We’re experiencing the same trends that we’re seeing reported across the state and the nation,” said Kim Blakey of OSF HealthCare St. Joseph Medical Center in Bloomington. “Our ICU beds are at capacity or near at all of our entities.”

Blakey oversees Care Hub, OSF’s system for managing patient flow and bed availability thorough its facilities. Because of capacity limits, OSF is turning away transfer patients on a daily basis, Blakey said.

“We certainly are working to facilitate alternate placement when that happens,” Blakey said, which often involves sending patients to hospitals as far away as Iowa or Missouri.

Blakey said that no changes have been made to emergency intake procedures, meaning that local patients are not being denied access to ER care.

Blakey explained that demand for care can outstrip resources even during normal times. It’s not a phenomenon that’s limited to the pandemic. But COVID patients admitted to the hospital are very sick and end up staying longer than traditional patients, Blakey said.

”And so it does impact our availability to care for others,” she said.

Blakey did not provide exact numbers but said the majority of patients in ICU were not vaccinated against COVID-19.

“That's the same. That trend has not changed,” she said.

Blakey said staff at OSF is tired. Burnout is resulting in higher than usual rates of turnover, especially among nursing staff. She said the situation at OSF is very similar to reports of burnout among medical professionals across the country.

“We're not immune to that,” Blakey said. “The pandemic has gone on for a long time.”

There were 46 people with COVID hospitalized at Bloomington-Normal's two hospitals, as of Tuesday, where 99% of hospital beds were in use.

Sarah Nardi is a correspondent at WGLT. She rejoined the station in 2024.