Rush Hospital CEO on Criteria for Delaying Surgeries Amid Bed Shortage

Illinois is setting record highs for the number of coronavirus cases and hospitalization rates, with more than 6,800 now in hospitals due to COVID.

According to city data, Chicago broke its record Tuesday for the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19. Currently, about 31% of ICU patients in the city have COVID-19.

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Meanwhile, hospitals across the state are working to maintain the ability to take patients and are delaying certain procedures amid a bed shortage.

Rush University Medical Center hasn’t reached capacity but is worried about the weeks to come.

“We’re very worried about where we’ll be at in one, two and three weeks from now,” said CEO and president of Rush University Medical Center Dr. Omar Lateef. “When those numbers in the model continue to increase, then we’ll have that even greater surge that we’ll have to figure out where to take patients.”

In any pandemic, according to Lateef, there’s three limitations in the ability to care for people: supplies — such as personal protective equipment, IV fluid and medications — staffing, and physical beds.

“During this surge, we realize staffing is our greatest crisis that we’re dealing with across the entire country, the state of Illinois and the city,” Lateef said. “We’re bringing in as much staff as we can find both our current staff, and we’re repurposing staff from other areas to help create more staff beds for COVID.”

Caring For Non-COVID Patients

Hospitals across the city are needing to delay elective surgeries in order to care for the sickest patients.

“This is a complicated issue because there’s people who have been in pain and waiting and waiting,” Lateef said. “There are surgeries that are important to get done like a mastectomy, a cancer resection from a woman that's critically important for them versus an eyelid resection ... Rush, like other hospitals, prioritizes the cases we do based on the volumes and needs for our city. We will absolutely postpone whatever needs to be postponed to continue to take care of the sickest patients.”

Since the first wave of the pandemic, hospitals like Rush effectively became COVID-19 hospitals.

“People were scared,” Lateef said. “What we learned was the health of our community after the pandemic was worse than it was before. Delaying the appropriate care is never the right thing.”

Lateef urges all patients to work with their primary care physicians and their consulting doctors to make sure “if there’s something they're putting off, that it's okay to put off.”

“Critical surgeries, cancer surgeries, of course, those are still surgeries we want to do, we have to do those,” Lateef said. “Part of the new normal that exists in America is living in the hospital with COVID and with non-COVID patients. We have a responsibility to treat all of those.”

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