Illinois prisoners sick with COVID-19 "overwhelm" Joliet hospital

ByChuck Goudie and Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel and Ross Weidner WLS logo
Tuesday, March 31, 2020
Potential 'epidemic' as sick inmates threaten to 'overwhelm' Joliet hospital, one doctor says
One Joliet doctor told the I-Team he is concerned about a potential epidemic at Stateville Correctional Center due to COVID-19 outbreak there.

JOLIET (WLS) -- There is a crisis within a crisis that could kill dozens of state prison inmates according to the medical director of a Joliet hospital now struggling to deal with COVID-19 victims.

The past few days, infected inmates at the Stateville Correctional Center have been taken to the closest hospital at Saint Joseph Medical Center for emergency treatment.

The hospital's medical director, Dr. John Walsh, said they have been "overwhelmed" by inmates suffering from the effects of coronavirus.

"This is a disaster," he said. "What I most fear, is that without some resolution, the number of patients coming in from Stateville will be excessive."

Walsh said that the inmates are not isolated well.

On Monday, 17 inmates infected with the virus were taken to the hospital for treatment.

RELATED: Latest news and updates on Illinois coronavirus cases, Chicago area impact

There are nine prisoners currently on ventilators in the intensive care unit at Saint Joseph, with the other prisoners and patients in need of care. Dr. Walsh said the hospital is "maxed out on staff."

Late Monday afternoon there was an emergency call between the Illinois Department of Corrections, the state health department, and hospital officials - part of the AMITA group - with an urgent request to begin sending critical COVID-19 incarcerated patients to other hospitals in the region.

Walsh said his concern is that there are at least 100 prisoners still inside Stateville who have fevers.

RELATED: Coronavirus Chicago: 134 detainees at Cook County Jail confirmed positive for COVID-19

"Something needs to be done at Stateville... you will have a huge epidemic," Walsh said.

Fevers are a symptom of the novel coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If all the inmates who are sick with fevers now end up needing emergency care, the hospital will be overrun, Walsh said.

According to Walsh, Saint Joseph Hospital has only a few more ventilators available. He fears that the prison death toll could be in excess of 100.