Contract healthcare workers, FEMA being deployed throughout Illinois

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Because of what Illinois public health officials say is a reduced health care workforce, strike teams are coming to provide relief. That includes help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Illinois officials say there’s been a record number of hospitalizations. They blamed COVID-19 cases.

The increase in cases has coincided with a decline in the number of total staffed hospital beds since the governor's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers was announced in August.

Since August, the number of staffed beds in Illinois has declined by 360. The staffing crunch is more acute in the availability of intensive care unit beds. Since August, staff ICU beds have declined by 186.

“We’re starting with a lower number of beds because of the decimated workforce capacity and then we have this unprecedented number of patients that are presenting,” Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said Wednesday.

Health officials blame burnout and retirements for staffing shortages.

To alleviate that, the Pritzker administration said there are 2,000 health care workers being made available from a state contracting pool. Nearly 1,000 are on the ground currently and an additional 550 are expected throughout the state next Friday. There are separate, what the administration called, “COVID Reaction Teams” with hundreds more medical staff targeting specific areas in the days ahead.

Illinois is also utilizing staff from FEMA with around a dozen on the ground helping in Rockford.

“There are federal teams that are coming on board that are providing assistance in specific hospitals,” Ezkie said. “We also have multiple contracts to provide nursing staff and other medical staff to help supplant the loss of staff. So, again, pulling at every lever to try to get as much help as possible.”

The Pritzker administration also said out-of-state health care workers can continue to work and doctors who were trained in a different country can provide assistance.

Another area of assistance is out-of-state providers can conduct telehealth services if there was a previous relationship.

And, the Pritzker administration is also encouraging hospitals to accelerate return-to-work timeframes for COVID-positive staff.

While there’s been a plateau of hospital capacity after weeks of an increase, Ezike is holding out on saying we’ve seen the peak.

“The last 24 hours there was a small dip but the 24 hours before there wasn’t, so you really want to see a consistent decline,” Ezike said during a news conference Wednesday. “I will be the first to announce it when we can say that pretty confidently. Crossing my fingers and toes, but I just don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.”

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