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Coronavirus

'We are reaching the breaking point'

Medical director of Joliet hospital concerned about potential rise in COVID-19 patients

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Local hospitals may soon have more COVID-19 patients than they can handle.

Dr. John Walsh, medical director of AMITA Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet, estimated 15 inmates from Stateville Correctional Center were admitted to St. Joe’s over the last week.

Eight are still on ventilators and one has died.

“At one point we had four patients from Stateville in the ER department,” Walsh said.

St. Joe’s also has 28 total patients on mechanical ventilators and 37 patients in the hospital’s two intensive care units, he said.

For now, the hospital still has ventilators and "a few" ICU rooms left, he said.

But it doesn't have enough nurses and respiratory therapists to care for these patients, he said.

“We are reaching the breaking point,” Walsh said.

Walsh said 37 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 with another 100 tests still pending. Approximately 72 to 100 inmates have fevers, he said.

“It’s hard isolating people,” Walsh said. “Historically there are two inmates to a cell. They’re trying to isolate them now.”

Over the last week through today, officials from the hospital, the Illinois Department of Corrections and the Illinois Department of Health have discussed sharing the critically ill patients from Stateville with other area hospitals, Walsh said.

The National Guard will also set up a health care facility at the prison, State Rep. Larry Walsh Jr, D-Elwood, said Tuesday in an earlier Herald-News story.

Up until Monday, the inmates were brought to the nearest hospital – St. Joe’s.

The overall worry is that, despite isolation, up to half of the approximately 1,100 inmates at Stateville might eventually become infected, Walsh said.

“That would be almost unmanageable,” Walsh said.

Currently, one ICU at St. Joe's is dedicated to COVID-19 patients, Walsh said. Nineteen were on ventilators when Walsh started the day, he added

Of those 19, two of those have COVID19 test results pending, he said. The remaining 17 are positive for COVID-19, he added.

"In the other ICU I have nine patients on ventilators that have nothing to do with COVID infection,” Walsh said.

As a contingency plan, St. Joe’s has an old ICU room with eight beds it may open up, Walsh said. It may also use some anesthesiologists as clinicians to help take care of patients, he added.

“We will open that as soon as we need it over the next day or week,” Walsh said.

Walsh stressed again the problem is not lack of rooms or ventilators.

“We are really maxed out on staff,” Walsh said.

That’s in addition to the fact COVID-19 is still circulating in the local community – and the number of cases isn’t predicted to peak in Illinois until approximately April 16, Walsh said.

“We need to have plans in order as we’re expected to have a huge influx (of COVID-9 cases),” Walsh said.

In his own 10-person practice – Midwest Respiratory, which has offices in Joliet and New Lenox – Walsh is seeing what other communities have seen.

Young people without other health conditions tend to have mild illness and recover at home, he said.

Individuals who also have other health concerns, such as diabetes, heart disease and underlying lung issues, may have more severe symptoms, he said.

“In addition to the inmates, we’ve had 11 patients come in who are critically ill and undergo mechanical ventilation with COVID so far,” Walsh said.

Walsh said if anyone has symptoms, call their doctor, who can then determine if testing should be done.

“Do not come to the ER,” he said.

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