URBANA — As more of their beds fill up with COVID-19 patients, administrators at local hospitals are appealing to the thousands of unvaccinated people in their communities to get their shots.
“The hospital is filling up,” said Matthew Kolb, Carle Health’s chief operating officer.
Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana was caring for 75 of the 100 COVID-19 patients in Carle’s system Wednesday, with 10 of those patients at the Urbana hospital in intensive care.
Throughout the 21-county Region 6 in East Central Illinois, only 26 out of 123 intensive-care beds were available as of Tuesday. And all counties in the state were at a high COVID-19 transmission level, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Increasing hospitalizations for COVID-19 are placing pressure on beds and staff, Kolb said.
“We’ve seen a rise over the last two months that we absolutely need to take seriously,” he said.
Carle is assessing available beds, staffing, supplies and equipment twice a day and assessing with care teams which patients can safely be discharged, Kolb said.
Some additional steps are also being taken, he said.
One of them will be assessing elective procedures and delaying those that can safely be put on hold, such as cosmetic and orthopedic surgeries, Kolb said.
Decisions on which procedures to delay will be judgment calls on the part of patients’ doctors, he said.
Patients will also find the triage tent back outside Carle Foundation Hospital’s emergency department. And while visiting policies have fluctuated throughout the pandemic, patients are generally now being limited to one support person each, Kolb said.
Carle has also resumed updating its data dashboard on COVID-19 hospitalizations daily rather than weekly to make sure the public is getting a clear picture of the impact.
“We have started to tighten things back up again,” said CEO Dr. James Leonard.
How concerned is he about this latest surge? “Very concerned.”
“I’m not sure that the community at large is really hearing the message about how serious this is,” he said.
For one thing, it’s not just about available hospital beds, he said. There’s also a labor shortage that can impact Carle’s ability to staff the beds it has.
It’s also not all about ICU bed capacity, Leonard said. There are also COVID-19 patients in medical/surgical beds needed by patients coming in with other diseases and injuries.
And unlike last year, when Carle could transfer certain clinical employees who were less busy to hospitals to help out, that’s largely not the case now, Kolb said.
Leonard said he’s hoping enough people get vaccinated or acquire immunity from having had COVID-19 to help prevent what happened last year — thousands of elective procedures being delayed for months.
But to be clear, he said, rolling the dice and remaining unvaccinated isn’t the way to go.
“Get vaccinated,” he urged.
As of Wednesday, 81 of the 100 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Carle’s system were unvaccinated, including 13 of the 14 in the ICU, Leonard and Kolb said.
Officials at OSF HealthCare’s hospitals in Urbana and Danville have also been seeing the effects of increasing COVID-19 transmission reflected in their patient numbers but said OSF isn’t imposing any new restrictions at this point.
Dr. Anil Gopinath, chief medical officer at OSF Heart of Mary Medical Center in Urbana, said he’s not worried about capacity at this point, but with about 76,000 eligible Champaign County residents still unvaccinated, he and fellow hospital officials are watchful.
Efforts need to be made especially to address vaccine hesitancy in the 18-49 age group, he said.
Julie Welch, chief nursing officer at OSF Sacred Heart Medical Center in Danville, said higher numbers of COVID-19 patients are using up more of its resources, too.
About 85 percent of the COVID-19 patients hospitalized across OSF’s system are unvaccinated, she said.
Much has been learned since the pandemic was new, Welch said, but OSF is also reassessing on a daily basis.
She is also urging more people to get vaccinated and encouraged those who haven’t yet to “follow the science.”
What’s her concern level at this point?
“I’d have to say I’m concerned all the time,” Welch said.