Behind the Scenes

Behind the Scenes

How NorthShore Protects Non-COVID-19 Patients

Before COVID-19, surgeons at NorthShore University HealthSystem’s four legacy hospitals conducted between 150 and 180 surgical procedures on a typical weekday. Now, they’re doing far fewer.

“We know there are people avoiding the healthcare system right now. People are ignoring aches, pains, and other abnormalities because they may be afraid,” says NorthShore Chief Operating Officer Sean O’Grady.

And while those fears are understandable during a global pandemic, COVID-19 doesn’t mean that other health issues or medical crises become obsolete.

Among those avoiding care are people suffering heart attacks. In March, NorthShore’s hospitals in Evanston, Glenview, Highland Park and Skokie saw less than half as many patients with heart attacks as the system typically sees in a month — 26 vs. 55. “But we know those heart attacks are still happening. They didn’t just disappear,” O’Grady says.

NorthShore’s coronavirus response team, which O’Grady leads, wants to assure the public that the hospitals are safe and that the real danger lies in letting health issues go unaddressed. After nearly two months of Illinois’ stay-at-home order, the state has permitted elective surgeries as of May 11.

And NorthShore is prepared. From strict distancing protocols to personal protective equipment (PPE), NorthShore staff have always put infection control first — but especially now, O’Grady says. The health system’s coronavirus response team has put thought into each aspect of the patient experience.

“You should expect to see everyone wearing a mask,” O’Grady says. “And you should expect to see fewer people because we’re putting more gaps between appointment times. It might seem quieter than usual, but that’s by design. Most everything else should be very much the same.”

That’s because although COVID-19 is new to the population at large, NorthShore already has deliberate protocols around infectious diseases — all to keep providers, patients and visitors safe.

“We manage a multitude of infectious diseases every day, with a high degree of attention and precision, and we’re using those same strategies now. Before COVID-19, that was invisible to people, but staff know specifics, like which type of PPE they need to wear and how they need to clean those patient rooms differently.”

Additionally, staff undergo temperature and symptom screenings before each shift. Waiting room and cafeteria seating is set up along physical distancing guidelines. And physicians continue to offer tele-health appointments for patients who don’t require a physical exam or test.

In addition, NorthShore has designated one of its hospital to serve the needs of its patients with COVID-19. Glenbrook Hospital serves as NorthShore’s centralized coronavirus facility, and providers treating patients there wear specialized equipment, including powered air-purifying respirators (PAPR).

The space-age-looking PAPR helmets are more comfortable for extended wear than a mask and have an attached battery pack, which pumps in purified air. For equipment such as N95 masks and gowns, NorthShore so far hasn’t experienced any shortages, and O’Grady says hospital administrators are closely monitoring their supply.

“If you’re worried about something, access the system as you always have. You don’t need to suffer. You don’t need to worry,” O’Grady says. “Because we’re never going to put you in a place where you’d be unnecessarily exposed to something like COVID-19.”

NorthShore University Health System

NorthShore’s Mercedes Stahl, RN, attaches a barcoded-ID bracelet to a patient in the Glenbrook Hospital Emergency Department. All NorthShore EDs have triage areas set up for all incoming patients to be screened for COVID symptoms and triaged for clinical care. Photo by Jon Hillenbrand.