Data Gap Leads To Confusion About B-N Hospitals' COVID Capacity | WGLT

Data Gap Leads To Confusion About B-N Hospitals' COVID Capacity

Nov 12, 2020

How many people with COVID-19 are being treated right now at Bloomington-Normal’s two hospitals? It’s a simple question that apparently can’t be answered right now.

OSF HealthCare has repeatedly declined to provide the number of people who are hospitalized with COVID-19 at its St. Joseph Medical Center in Bloomington, or how much capacity it has for additional patients. The other Twin City hospital, Carle BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, does provide specific numbers, but without OSF’s data, the picture remains incomplete.

The missing data has contributed to confusion about hospitalizations and capacity in Bloomington-Normal, at a time of record hospitalizations statewide. That’s because the McLean County Health Department (MCHD) provides a daily number of hospitalized people -- currently eight -- but that count only includes McLean County residents. OSF St. Joseph and Carle BroMenn also are treating people who live outside of McLean County, so the real number of hospitalized people in Bloomington-Normal is a mystery.

All we know is, there’s more.

When asked by WGLT on Thursday why it wouldn’t provide the hospitalization data, an OSF spokesperson said “it was determined from the beginning that the health department in each county would be the single source of truth for hospitalized COVID patients in that county. This is to help reduce potential duplication or redundancy in the count. Self-reporting would allow for a potential misrepresentation of COVID-19 patient volume.”

“This isn’t a transparency issue, it’s a respect and consistency issue,” said the spokesperson, Libby Allison. “We respect the public health agencies in each of the communities we serve, many of those communities have more than one hospital and this is the best representation of what we are seeing within that community.”

Other communities have access to information about how many COVID patients are in their hospitals. In the Peoria area, for example, public health officials provide a total number of hospitalized people across its four Tri-County hospitals every weekday. The Memorial Health System, which has five hospitals in central Illinois, released a public COVID-19 data dashboard this week.

There are now eight McLean County residents who are hospitalized with COVID, none of whom are in intensive care. The peak was 15 people hospitalized in mid-October.

Carle BroMenn in Normal is currently caring for 21 patients diagnosed with COVID-19, one of whom is in the ICU. Its current occupancy is 84%, up from 77% on Tuesday, said spokesperson Lynn Hutley. The hospital can expand overall bed capacity through its surge plan, she said.

“We have not put any restrictions on the number of elective surgeries being performed, but continue to monitor and evaluate the situation on an ongoing basis,” Hutley said.

OSF declined Tuesday and again Thursday to provide comparable hospitalization data for St. Joseph Medical Center. Lynn Fulton, the hospital’s president, was not available for an interview Thursday, but did respond to WGLT questions in a statement:

“We have seen a steady increase in the number of COVID-19 patients across all of our hospitals, including at OSF HealthCare St. Joseph Medical Center. We presently have an adequate number of personnel, protective equipment supplies and health care providers, and are confident in our ability to provide needed care.

"OSF HealthCare has an emergency operations/pandemic plan for each of its hospitals and the ministry as a whole. Leadership teams review those daily, based on what they are experiencing and adjust plans and staffing accordingly. Today, we have not scaled back electives, but that decision is fluid and could change if cases continue to increase.

"We can’t stress enough the importance of community members helping us by wearing a mask when around others, washing their hands, and keeping at least 6 feet of distance from others to help stop the spread of this virus.”

McLean County is one of 20 counties that are part of Illinois' Region 2 where about 31% of ICU beds are available; the state’s warning threshold is 20%. About 31% of overall hospitals are available; the state’s warning threshold there also is 20%.

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