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COVID Causes Health Care Logjam As Hospital Stays Increase

Advocate Bromenn Hospital
Emma Shores

COVID-19 has created a health care logjam as new cases rise, but hospitals aren't the only ones strained for space and staffing.<--break->

Elizabeth Angelo, chief nursing officer for Urbana-based Carle Health, said Carle hospitals have struggled to move COVID patients who are awaiting a transfer as hospitalizations increase.

“We are finding that often times it’s difficult to facilitate a discharge to a nursing home or an extended care facility because they are also experiencing staffing and space challenges,” Angelo said.

She said Carle also has had to refuse some COVID patients from rural hospitals because they have reached capacity.

Bloomington-Normal hospitals beds are currently 86% full. Intensive care beds were 96% occupied as recently as Friday.

One way in which Carle hospitals are trying to limit hospital stays is through its new COVID At-Home program. It enables patients with mild COVID cases to track their symptoms from home. Patients get tools to monitor oxygen levels and other vital signs.

“We’ve had really great success with it so far,” Angelo said. “I think the folks who have been enrolled in the program have been appreciative of the level of support that they have received. Certainly, we have learned a little bit along the way.”

Angelo added Carle is working to “right size” the proper frequency of patient contacts so they feel supported, but not overwhelmed.

Carle Health has nearly 100 patients enrolled in the program systemwide in the first few weeks, according to spokesperson Jamie Mullin. She said 85% of those patients have avoided hospitalization and have managed the oxygen monitors on their own.

Carle’s COVID At-Home program will be available at Carle BroMenn in Normal soon, officials said. 

OSF HealthCare has a similar at-home program that’s been running since the spring. OSF has nearly 5,000 clients enrolled in its Pandemic Health Worker (PHW) program, including 474 from the Bloomington-Normal area, according to an OSF spokesperson.

Also, OSF’s Acute COVID@Home program, which allows for greater medical supervision when symptoms worsen, has more than 1,600 enrollees statewide, including 182 in the Bloomington-Normal area.

COVID dashboard

Carle Health also has created a new online COVID dashboard it hopes will help the public better understand how serious the coronavirus pandemic is.

Laurie Round portrait
Credit Carle Health System
Laurie Round, chief nursing officer at Carle BroMenn and Carle Eureka hospitals, said Carle's new COVID dashboard is intended to show how serious the pandemic is.&nbsp;

Angelo said the data is more comprehensive than what most counties report since Carle hospitals take in patients from many rural counties, too.

Laurie Round, chief nursing officer at Carle BroMenn and Carle Eureka hospitals, hopes the information will help convince more people how serious the coronavirus is.

“If you talk to someone in the community, sometimes they will say, ‘Is it really that bad?’ Yeah it is,” Round replies. “It’s getting there. I need your help to wear your mask, to wash your hands, to stay away from each other.”

Round said that's what worries her most during the holiday season.

“People are going to get together over the holidays and two weeks later, we are going to see another uptick in our COVID admissions,” Round predicted.

She said Carle expects another spike in hospitalizations around Christmas, after the New Year holiday and again in March.

Carle Health reports 106 COVID patients have died at its facilities since the pandemic began in March.

Round and Angelo both said they see hope in the new COVID vaccines that show a high degree of effectiveness during testing trials. Both said they intend to get the vaccine as soon as it is available to them.

Coronavirus - Testing Positivity Rate
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Eric Stock is a reporter at WGLT.