With COVID-19 surging, ICU beds are full and resources are scarce at Roseland Community Hospital on Chicago's Far South Side.
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"We are forced to use our emergency department as our overflow ICU unit," CEO Tim Egan said.
While smaller community hospitals that primarily serve lower income minority residents are stretched thin, bigger university hospitals have empty beds.
According to new federal data, Rush University Medical Center averaged 59 available beds, Northwestern Hospital averaged 84 empty beds, and University of Chicago hospital averaged 44 empty beds during Thanksgiving week.
"It turns out patients treated at centers like ours have a dramatically lower risk of dying," said Dr. Will Parker at the University of Chicago MacLean Center for Medical Ethics. "The risk of dying at a small community hospital without the same resources from severe COVID infection is three times as high."
Dr. Parker has joined doctors at other big hospitals to call for a plan to share resources. Right now, each hospital operates on its own to care for COVID-19 patients. Parker said if smaller hospitals are overwhelmed, teaching hospitals with open beds and resources should take the very sick.
"Ambulance services would direct the sickest to these academic centers with lots of ICUs, the same way they do for trauma, stroke or heart attack," Dr. Parker said.
"Yes, if they have open beds at bigger institutions, they should damn well be willing to take our overflow of COVID patients," Egan said.
But, hospitals big and small say there is so much they can do to coordinate. Medical ethicists believe government should step in come up with a plan
Roseland Hospital CEO Tim Egan said a shared plan should be long-term well after COVID-19. He said the best way to close the health care inequity gap is for specialists from big university hospitals to go to community hospitals to help care for patients on a regular basis.