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Number of available ICU beds critically low, as COVID spikes in region

By Renee Trappe
updated: 9/6/2021 10:40 AM

The number of available ICU beds in southern Illinois has reached critical mass, as seriously ill COVID-19 patients are using almost all of them up, according to medical officials at Southern Illinois Healthcare, the largest hospital chain in the region.

SIH, whose 29 ICU beds spread between Memorial Hospital in Carbondale and Herrin Hospital were filled on Wednesday -- even had a 30th patient being cared for, said Chief Nursing Officer Jennifer Harre. At noon on Aug. 31, SIH had 70 patients hospitalized with COVID at SIH Memorial Hospital of Carbondale and SIH Herrin Hospital.

At Heartland Medical Center in Marion, as of Thursday there were eight COVID patients for the 15 ICU beds, according to Director of Marketing Herby Voss.

"Our patient volumes and acuity levels can change by the hour, and we're closely monitoring staffing and equipment levels," Voss wrote in an email.

Harre said SIH has asked the state for help, and is expecting additional nurses, nursing assistants and respiratory therapists, plus environmental services people, dietitians, and lab and clinical support people to arrive next week.

Meanwhile, the staff at SIH is holding it together despite being tired, said SIH president and CEO Rex Budde at a news conference on Wednesday. He said all but three of their current ICU patients are unvaccinated.

"This didn't have to happen in many cases," he told the Chicago Tribune, urging southern Illinoisans to get vaccinated.

Officials confirmed that the youngest patient on a ventilator at SIH hospitals is 27 years old.

Voss also confirmed that most of Heartland's COVID-19 patients are not fully vaccinated.

On Aug. 18, SIH announced it was mandating all employees to be vaccinated. Since that announcement 10 people have quit, specifically over the mandate, officials said.

SIH Vice President Pam Henderson, said 63% of the SIH staff is fully vaccinated, but that number doesn't account for employees who have gotten their first dose of Moderna or Pfizer, vaccines that require a second dose.

On Aug. 26, eight days after SIH's mandate, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed an executive order requiring all health care workers in Illinois to get a first dose of vaccine by Sept. 5 and the second dose within 30 days.

Meanwhile, SIH is breaking its own records in terms of testing people for COVID, said Rosslind Rice, SIH communications coordinator. They tested more than 1,500 people in two days this week at their drive-through sites in Marion and Carbondale, she said.

Meanwhile, the local rural hospitals in southern Illinois have no ICUs, and say they are having difficulty finding ICU beds in the region.

At Franklin Hospital in Benton, the staff sent one local patient to Cincinnati, Ohio for ICU services because no ICU bed was available in southern Illinois, said hospital CEO James M. Johnson. The hospital found another patient an ICU bed in Fenton, Missouri.

Johnson said his hospital is small and had only three COVID patients on Thursday -- which is about half Franklin's capacity for COVID-19. The staff has been administering around 60 COVID-19 tests a day, "which is high for us."

Johnson said that the current rate of COVID cases at the hospital is as high as it's been since the pandemic began.

"This is the worst we've seen," Johnson said. "We're not overwhelmed at the moment, but we're close."

• Staff writers Geoff Ritter and Holly Kee contributed to this report.