Peoria area hospitals still ‘managing’ capacity as COVID-19 cases continue to spike

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PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Local health officials said the continued increase in COVID-19 cases is putting a strain on local hospital systems.

On Tuesday, Monica Hendrickson, Public Health Administrator for the Peoria City/County Health Department, said Peoria County is averaging 73 news COVID-19 cases each day.

While not every COVID case requires hospitalization, health officials said the new cases aren’t helping an already stressful environment.

“We work every day to manage our capacity so that we can accept patients with critical conditions and that’s something that we’re used to managing,” Bob Anderson, President of OSF St. Francis Medical Center, said. “But this ongoing increase in COVID positive patients is putting a strain on things.”

Anderson said there are 177 patients hospitalized for COVID-19 across OSF. He said the majority are unvaccinated or haven’t gotten their booster shot.

He said they’ve been at 90% or higher capacity in recent weeks, and the addition of more COVID-19 patients does create capacity concerns.

“Saint Francis is a tertiary medical center, meaning we take referrals of complex patients from the region, and so we routinely operate with very high capacity numbers in the 80-90% range,” Anderson said. “But the COVID positive patients are not helping that.”

Anderson said extra wait time and delays are issues they’ve experienced.

“There are times when we have patients having to wait in the region before they can come to receive care at St. Francis,” Anderson said. “And then there are delays in bringing patients from the emergency department up to the units as a result of those capacity constraints.”

Even with current staffing issues, he said so far they’ve been able to manage, a daily accomplishment he attributes to the hospital’s team members who sometimes have to work extra shifts.

Anderson said they also have contingency plans to expand care into other areas of the hospital where they don’t normally provide care, and they’ll evaluate daily procedures if they become overwhelmed.

Dr. Samer Sader, Chief Medical Officer of UnityPoint Health in the Peoria region, said they’re tight on staffing and space at the moment.

He said they’re currently averaging a little more than 30 COVID-19 patients, while they were previously averaging as low as 8-12 COVID-19 patients.

“That’s causing some disruptions, especially since staffing is difficult,” Sader said. “It’s a real problem that we’re handling as best we can and we thank our team members who make it happen every day.”

Dr. Sader said these numbers aren’t as high as the last wave of COVID. He also said not all COVID-19 patients require hospitalizations, but he said COVID patients tend to be sicker and can on average stay in the hospital 5-10 days, which is an added stress level for the hospital’s staff.

“If they’re in the intensive care unit you can stretch that out probably 10-20 days, so that’s a long time in the hospital,” Sader said. “They’re taking up that bed, taking up that staffing for that period of time, and we still have the other illnesses coming in.”

He said while they’re able to maintain capacity now, they have plans in place if things change.

“Things that would change would be elective surgeries, how we deal with our patients, procedures, how we deal with the clinics and areas that are less critical we would pull staff into the hospital,” Sader said. “We have surge plans in the hospital to increase our capacity.”

Both Anderson and Sader said one of the best ways to help alleviate the hospital system is to get your COVID-19 vaccines, booster shot, and continue following safety protocols.

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