Preparing for the worst in a time of pandemic, hospitals prepare for surge of patients

Posted at 5:35 PM, Mar 29, 2020

The United States is ranked number one in the world for pandemic preparedness, according to the Global Health Security Index. Still, hospitals and medical professionals are in dire need of personal protective gear, ventilators and beds as a looming surge in patients draws near.

Some hospitals are as ready as possible, but it’s unclear if even the best can handle what’s to come.

In the nation’s third largest city, Rush University Medical Center is one hospital tower built to handle disaster.

“That includes infectious disease pandemics, like we're experiencing now. So, not just did we build the tower, but we also routinely drill on these different scenarios,” says Paul Casey, Rush’s chief medical officer.

Constructed after 9/11, Rush’s CEO, Dr. Omar Lateef, says the facility was designed to handle mass casualty incidents, and now, it could be a model for epidemic response.

“Many of the same features of the building make it a building structured to treat highly contagious infections,” says Lateef.

The hospital has the ability to quickly ramp up to 130 percent capacity. Intake and extra beds can be added within minutes and are already on deck.

“We are essentially extending our emergency department into our ground floor pavilion area,” says capital projects construction manager Angela Tosic.

The ambulance bay area has been transformed into a triage area. They are converting spaces into what are known as “negative pressure” units that help to prevent cross-contamination.

“We can take entire quadrants of the building flip switches and make them negative pressure,” explains Lateef. “We can take massive areas of the building that when we built them are nice hallways but secretly inside the columns are oxygen dispensers.”

The incident command center is at the heart of the operation.

“We closely monitor both the activity of coronavirus locally, as well as our testing of coronavirus,” says Casey. “And then, we look at what's the next step that we need to be prepared to take.”

Keeping staff safe and preventing the spread of the virus is a top priority. Employees are being asked to self-monitor and check their temperature at home twice a day.

Once at work, facial recognition scanners not only confirm their identities but also take real-time temperature readings to ensure they do not have fevers.

Should staffer’s exhibit symptoms, a drive through COVID-19 testing area is already up and running.

Patients exhibiting COVID-19-like symptoms enter and are housed in a completely separate unit.

Rush says it will max out its bed capacity as much as possible but has to balance that with not running out of available staff.

“The number we have is when patients stop coming in we'll figure out a way to not turn people away,” says Lateef.