The one constant for the health care industry has been change during the ongoing COVID pandemic, and Springfield hospitals are striving to stay one step ahead of the microscopic menace and the unprecedented disruption it has wrought to one of the area’s biggest and most vital industries.
“We’ve had to change every day for the last six months,” said Charles Callahan, president of Memorial Health System Hospital Group and president and CEO of Memorial Medical Center, who applauded his employees’ flexibility and ingenuity in meeting those challenges.
Memorial has weathered the constantly changing predictions, mandates and perceptions that the pandemic has caused, starting with the March 10 establishment of its Incident Command Center to deal with the COVID health crisis. Memorial is now promoting its “Ready, Safe, Go” campaign to let people know that all health care providers are doing specialized cleaning and sanitation, and patients shouldn’t defer needed care because of COVID fears.
“I’m concerned that people are afraid to come to the hospital or to their doctor. We have 1,000 beds in the five hospitals in our system, and I have 25 COVID-positive patients,” Callahan said. “There is a lot of care we are providing that has nothing to do with COVID. Unfortunately, we are still seeing people putting off care for some serious issues because of COVID concerns.”
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Callahan said that constantly changing COVID mandates have been a major problem for the health care industry and the people it serves. Early on, hospitals were forced to stop elective surgeries and clear as many critical care beds as possible for an expected surge in COVID patients. Memorial formed new triage areas, opened new units with negative air pressure, did a lot of work on personal protective equipment and developed new rules, such as screening people at the front door.
But that COVID patient surge never came, and because hospitals were largely empty as a result, there wasn’t enough activity to keep all of the staff on board, resulting in layoffs and furloughs. Callahan said at Memorial’s slowest time, inpatient services were down by 25% and surgery was down by 60%. With few surgeries, there was very little therapy and other related post-surgery services as a result, he said.
Then, things changed again on May 11 when Governor JB Pritzker allowed elective surgeries to resume, but only with a special COVID screening test, which remains in short supply, Callahan said.