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Bloomington-Normal hospitals face a 'lull before the storm' as the snow stops

Birds and snow on a tree
Emily Bollinger
Bloomington-Normal received close to 12 inches of snow on Wednesday and Thursday.

A major snowstorm can be one more thing overstretched health care workers have to deal with during a pandemic. But so far, emergency room managers say it's not been a problem in Bloomington-Normal.

Sarah Smithson is the emergency department nurse manager at Carle BroMenn in Normal. She said the hospital saw fewer patients than usual on Wednesday, presumably because more people stayed home, while some who need care might have decided to wait out the storm.

Smithson said it will likely get busier over the next few days as more people venture out again. “We expect once the roads get clear and people get out of their house, we prepare our staff to be ready for a higher influx of patients, (including) the patients that waited to be seen because they couldn’t get out of their house,” Smithson said.

Sarah Smithson
Sarah Smithson

The bad weather also presents a problem for some who need to get to the hospital. Julie Lewis, emergency room manager at OSF St. Joseph Medical Center, said most ER patients have arrived by ambulance because the roads are snow-packed.

“EMS itself is having a difficult time getting here, so transport is difficult, I’m sure there’s a delay in the response for EMS to get patients in,” said Lewis, adding some patients have had to wait longer for a discharge because families had difficulty getting back to the hospital to take them home.

Lewis said the ER hasn’t been overwhelmed with patients. She said this may be their "lull before the storm" because most people stayed home. Like Smithson, she expects the hospital will see an influx of patients from falls, traffic crashes and other snow-related hazards in the next few days.


Smithson said it has taken teamwork and creativity to keep Carle BroMenn’s emergency room adequately staffed because of travel difficulties. Smithson said some medical staff stayed at the hospital in sleep rooms overnight while some were able to carpool.

“There was staff that volunteered who drive larger vehicles like trucks and jeeps that volunteered to pick people up who were unable to get out of their own (driveway), or their streets weren’t plowed,” she said.

Lewis said some OSF medical staff, particularly traveling nurses who live outside of Bloomington-Normal, stayed in hotels overnight or found other places to stay in town. Some decided to stay the night at the hospital.

“One of our employees left and we saw him an hour later and (we asked), ‘Why are you here?’ He said he couldn’t get out,” Lewis said.

Lewis added hospital staff is still strained by managing higher patient loads because of the coronavirus pandemic, but she said they are seeing fewer patients now.

“If this would have happened three weeks ago, I would say that would have been just a horrible combination,” she said.

The latest data from the McLean County Health Department indicates 98% of Bloomington-Normal hospital beds are full. Lewis describes OSF’s current capacity as “comfortable.”

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
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