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

OSF's COVID-19 Home Monitoring Program Up And Running

OSF digital triage center
OSF HealthCare
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OSF HealthCare is expected to initially serve 8,400 people each month through its Pandemic Health Workers (PHWs), when they are in place in all communities served by the healthcare system.

OSF HealthCare’s new home-monitoring program is officially up and running for those with COVID-19 symptoms in the Bloomington-Normal and Peoria areas.

Those who want to enroll should start by calling OSF’s COVID-19 Nurse Hotline (833-OSF-KNOW). Depending on their answers to screening questions, they will be invited into the Pandemic Health Worker Program (PHWP). They’ll get a daily check-in from a Pandemic Health Worker (PHW) by phone or app, for two weeks. If their condition worsens, their supervision could increase to an advanced practice provider or a doctor’s care, or they could be sent to the hospital.

“A very small number of those folks that catch COVID-19 actually need acute care,” said Lynn Fulton, president of OSF St. Joseph Medical Center in Bloomington. “Most patients that have this are able to stay home. I’m not saying that they’re not miserable. But they’re able to stay home and recover in those 14 days.”

Around 77 people in Bloomington-Normal and Peoria already were enrolled in the program as of Monday, Fulton said, and that number has likely risen “dramatically” in the days since.

OSF says the program will prevent overcrowding at its facilities.

“That means they’re going to be interacting with fewer people, so they’ll be isolating themselves and possibly infecting less people that way," Fulton said. "And also, people are more comfortable in their homes.” 

Tracking Cases In Central Illinois

The program further demonstrates how hard it is to get a clear picture of how many people in central Illinois are sick with COVID-19. People only have to show symptoms or be at high risk to be enrolled in PHWP, Fulton said. They don’t need a positive test, and Fulton estimates only a small number of PHWP enrollees will ever be tested.

That means they won’t show up on the county or state public health department’s daily tallies of confirmed coronavirus cases.

“We just don’t have that testing available on the outpatient side yet,” she said. “We have a few of those testing sites. We’re lucky to have the one in McLean County. … But in the hospital space, we’re following the Illinois Department of Public Health’s recommendation for testing, because we only have a limited number of tests available. So we’re only testing those critical patients who will be hospitalized.”

Keeping Workers Employed

The Pandemic Health Worker Program also has become a landing spot for OSF employees who were at risk of being furloughed.

That happened because Peoria-based OSF is facing systemwide financial challenges due to lost revenue from elective surgeries being postponed and declining patient volume (for non-coronavirus care). Business at OSF St. Joseph in Bloomington is down about 40%, said Fulton.

OSF has around 1,400 employees in Bloomington-Normal. Fulton said she did not know how many will be furloughed. She said many already have moved into Pandemic Health Worker positions or volunteered to work at a Chicago-area OSF hospital that’s been busier.

Others have taken paid time off and will then be furloughed to care for their own children who are out of school, Fulton said.

“There have been a number of ways we’ve tried to handle that, to be as cognizant as we could of people’s circumstances. But unfortunately, there are still some who are adversely impacted,” Fulton said.

The new program is paid for jointly by OSF and through a contract with the state, she said. You don’t have to be an existing OSF patient to be invited. 

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