Sauk Valley hospitals cope with COVID-19 surge

KSB’s ICU is ‘pretty much full every day’; CGH patient load wears on staff

Hospitals across the country are feeling the strain from the latest surge in COVID-19 cases during recent weeks, including those in the Sauk Valley.

At KSB Hospital in Dixon, the Intensive Care Unit is “pretty much full every day,” KSB Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer Linda Clemen said, and has been for the past 4 to 6 weeks with the majority of patients testing positive for COVID-19.

Hospital staff can make room for a few spare ICU beds, and they have since tried to keep at least one bed open in case of emergency care or surgery. One concern has been having to cancel or reschedule surgery because of bed capacity, Clemen said.

Clemen said the unit has received calls from other hospitals from across the region looking for available beds for patients because they at full capacity. Some of these requests have come from as far away as Missouri, and it can take days for patients to get beds in larger hospitals such as Rockford’s.

Compounding the lack of beds, a worker shortage for positions with specialized training such as ICU nurses is plaguing the hospitals, Clemen said. The demand is also causing local nurses to travel to other hospitals where they can receive higher pay.

A lot of staff members are cross-trained and have infrastructure in place to handle the hectic day-to-day swapping, she said.

“We’re trying to take care of the community,” she said. “We’re going to do whatever we have to to get through this.”

CGH Medical Center in Sterling has a larger bed capacity than other hospitals, and the ICU isn’t as full now as during the November 2020 surge when it had 40 patients hospitalized with COVID-19. However, as many as 14 were hospitalized there this week, CGH Vice President and Chief Medical Officer Dr. William Bird said, a number he says is likely to grow.

“The thing that is concerning about the hospitalization peak, is that there’s usually a month lag from the community peak,” he said. “The sobering part from a hospital standpoint, for our doctors and nurses and staff, is that there’s a good chance the hospitalizations will keep going up.”

COVID-19 hospitalizations are difficult for everyone involved – for staff, patients and their families – but it can be difficult for the community outside the hospitals to see the full scope of the toll the virus takes on everyone involved.

“It’s hard for people to understand the gravity of how much people get sick with this,” Bird said. “Staff see this every day, and it wears on them.”

The vast majority of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 are not vaccinated, a trend he says is raging across the U.S. despite health officials imploring people to get vaccinated.

“It’s pretty clear the unvaccinated are at higher risk for hospitalization, getting really sick, and, unfortunately, dying compared with those who are vaccinated,” he said. “It is really important for people to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Otherwise, everything else here at CGH is business as usual.”

The pandemic also has seen people delay their regular or preventative care, which could worsen health conditions.

“What we don’t want is for people to skip their mammograms, routine physicals, diabetes and heart check-ups, and other regular screenings and medical care,” he said. “We are seeing a lot of people who have put off their regular medical care because of COVID-19, and they now have advanced conditions that need urgent treatment.”

Bigger metropolitan hospitals and health care systems are packed with treatments, and as a result they can’t serve their satellite facilities that feed into them. This leads to many bigger hospitals reaching out to others such as CGH.

“It’s part of the strain that we’re seeing more and more,” he said.

Transfers are normally rare, he said, but the hospital has accepted patients from Morrison Community Hospital or KSB, or even some as far away as Macomb.

Community members need to take COVID-19 risks seriously, Bird said, especially when deaths related to the coronavirus are outpacing ones caused by heart disease and cancer.

“We’re getting it done here at CGH, but our supply of staff and beds are not limitless,” he said.

Rachel Rodgers

Rachel Rodgers

Rachel Rodgers joined Sauk Valley Media in 2016 covering local government in Dixon and Lee County.