‘An ongoing disaster’: Doctors urge Elgin officials to intervene in Sherman’s anesthesiologist shortage

An advisory board is recommending Advocate Aurora Health provide regular updates to Elgin city leaders about an ongoing shortage of anesthesiologists at Sherman Hospital until the problem is resolved.

Several doctors attended the Elgin Board of Health’s quarterly meeting on Monday to speak about the situation at Sherman. The Elgin hospital has been without its full complement of anesthesiologists since severing ties with its former provider during a contract dispute in late August. Sherman last month lost its designation as a Level 2 trauma center.

“The current situation at Sherman is an ongoing disaster,” said Dr. Cynthia Steimle, who said she’s practiced at the hospital for 26 years. “And what makes it even more infuriating to the doctors is that Advocate repeatedly makes false and misleading statements about what’s happened (and) how we arrived at the current situation.”

After hearing from several doctors, the board unanimously approved a motion recommending that “the Advocate Sherman administration provide accurate, complete and factual updates to the Elgin City Council at each of their meetings regarding the anesthesiologist staffing situation” until the issue is resolved. The motion also urged “the administration to quickly resolve the anesthesia staffing issues and to return them to the staffing levels of August 2021.”

When asked about the board of health’s recommendation, Advocate Sherman Hospital released a written statement.

“As we work to onboard our new provider, we have sufficient anesthesia coverage to avoid bypass for the foreseeable future, and we have resumed some elective procedures,” the statement reads. “We continue to provide uninterrupted services in our Emergency Department. From the outset, there has been no impact to labor & delivery.”

The statement says that hospital officials already “have been and will continue to provide regular updates” to city council members and the mayor. Sherman officials anticipate returning to full anesthesia services at the beginning of 2022.

Dr. Dorothea Poulos, chairman of the board of health, will send the motion to Mayor David Kaptain for consideration by the council. Poulos did not participate in drafting the motion or voting because she is on staff at Sherman Hospital.

Poulos said the board historically has focused on food safety, prevention of West Nile and other important public health issues. Still, the panel has had special projects in the past, including working to change the age to purchase tobacco in Elgin and partnering with the park district on programs to fight childhood obesity.

She said she wasn’t aware of a previous instance where the board of health has gotten involved in the day-to-day operations of either of the city’s two hospitals.

“I’ve been in town 35 years, and I’ve never heard of that,” she said.

It will be up to the city council to decide what to do with the board’s recommendation. City officials said it is unlikely to make it onto Wednesday’s agenda.

Steimle said the medical staff has been told that the operating rooms will not be back to full capacity until April 2022, “presuming they can hire enough people to cover in the midst of a national shortage of anesthesiologists.”

A handful of doctors at Monday’s meeting said they came hoping to find a way to get the city involved.

“Our thought was that if the board of health can have a more supervisory role, then we can get our information from (them) as opposed to the administration, which quite frankly has told us lies,” Dr. Tom Stanley said before the meeting. Stanley is Sherman’s vice chair of surgery.

“I think there needs to be more transparency,” Stanley said. “Right now, nobody knows the real timeline. No one really knows what’s happening, and we don’t know when we’re going to be able to schedule surgeries.”