By: John Palameda, Red Phoenix Correspondent Illinois
With the recent surge of the omicron variant, hospitals in every part of the US are reaching and surpassing capacity levels. Across the country, about 75% of all intensive care unit beds are in use, with only four states below 70% capacity. About 30% of those beds are being used by patients with COVID-19, when added to in-patient beds being used by COVID-19 patients. The added volume has taxed the for-profit healthcare system, which often offers only enough beds to be profitable with minimal staffing, or are limited in expanding the beds they offer because of state legislation. The crisis in New York has been well reported by major media outlets, but the situation in Illinois, and in neighboring Michigan and Wisconsin, is as critical, and in some cases, worse.
On Christmas Eve, the 24th, Illinois reported over 19,000 new cases in a single day, its highest number during the pandemic. In McHenry, Illinois, an exurban, republican-leaning town about 60 miles from Chicago, the only local hospital is 16% over capacity, with five ICU COVID patients without a bed. State funds had to be rushed to the area to hire enough staff to create “surge capacity.” In Chicago, many hospitals only have about 10% of inpatient or ICU beds available. In rural Jefferson County, in the southern part of the state, the only hospital within a 50 mile radius has only 2% of its beds available. In Peoria, a town stricken with poverty and racial segregation, the two main hospitals have 16% and 2% capacity available.
While these numbers are alarming, those who fall ill with COVID-19 will more than likely still be able to receive treatment, according to a nurse in the Advocate Healthcare system who spoke to the Phoenix on the condition of anonymity due to employment concerns. In her work as a triage nurse, she said that “only those with breathing or heart problems are being admitted to most area hospitals, if it’s anything else, we have to refer them elsewhere.” The nurse reported that the task of refusing care to those who were legitimately ill or injured, but not seriously enough, increasingly weighed on her conscience.
This is one of the unspoken effects of our for-profit healthcare system and its capacity to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people are avoiding critical care because they fear contracting COVID-19 in a hospital, or are turned away due to capacity issues. Knee replacements, heart checkups, yearly physicals, migraine headaches, back surgeries, women’s healthcare, gall-bladder removals, and countless other critical health procedures, are being postponed or cancelled. When done, patients often feel their rehabilitation was less effective, due to understaffing and COVID-related restrictions.
It is a crisis driven by several factors. First, the anti-vaccination movement driven by extremist religious sentiment, conspiracy theories, and the politicization of rudimentary science, continues to endanger people and encourage the development of COVID variants. In Chicago, 70% of those in the ICU due to COVID are unvaccinated. Second, the federal government has continually emphasized “economic recovery” over safety and forced working class people back into danger while the middle class and bourgeoisie safely work from home. Teachers, waiters and waitresses, door dashers, amazon facility workers, healthcare workers, etc., are the ones who risk their life and the lives of their loved ones for “economic recovery” and stock market surges, while paying more and more for basic goods and housing. In Illinois, and across the country, we need to continue organizing and unionizing, to take back control of our lives and put the power to fight this pandemic in the hands of the people who work, and risk, the most.
Categories: U.S. News