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Jillian Evans knew she wanted to be a nurse ever since she was a little girl. Her mother, also a nurse, taught her the importance of caring for those around you.
“She was a really good role model, so I think that has always made me want to care for others," she said.
Today, Evans works as a registered nurse for Northwestern Medicine McHenry Hospital in the Clinical Decision Unit, which now serves as the hospital’s COVID-19 isolation area.
Evans has been with Northwestern for three years, she said she has never experienced anything like COVID-19.
“[My job] has changed in a couple different ways, definitely with the acuity of the patients that I’m caring for,” Evans said. “Also with the guidelines from the CDC and just the different protective equipment that we’re using ... that’s all been kind of an adjustment.”
Unlike other nurses in Illinois, Evans works for a hospital where there still is plenty of personal protective equipment to go around.
Northwestern has been working to ensure that its hospitals and staff are prepared for the surge in COVID-19 cases that is anticipated in the next few weeks, said Kim Armour, Chief Nursing Executive for Northwestern Medicine Huntley Hospital.
“It's like shooting darts in the dark,” Armour said. “Our analytics change every day. So as we continue to watch how many [tests] are completed and, of those, how many come back negative and how many come back positive, that helps us to adjust our projections.”
Every day, employees are asked to fill out a questionnaire detailing any symptoms they may have and their potential exposure level to COVID-19, she said.
“Everybody that comes in our building get screened,” Armour said. “So we have one dedicated entrance where all our employees and physicians come in.”
So far, they have not had to send any staff home because of a positive COVID-19 test. This could change in the coming weeks, Armour said, so they encourage nurses and physicians to monitor their health constantly.
Like most hospitals in Illinois and around the country, Northwestern Medicine currently is not allowing visitors as a preventive measure, Evans said.
Knowing that her patients are fighting this devastating virus alone has made Evans look at her role as a front line nurse with a renewed sense of the impact she has on the lives of others.
“It definitely has its challenges," she said. "You’re seeing a lot of really sick people who are scared because of the uncertainty. But it’s also made me really proud to be able to make a difference in such a scary time."
The nursing staff has been striving to come up with innovative ideas to shed a bit of light into the lives of their patients in this time, Evans said.
“With the no visitors, we’ve implemented the use of iPads so family members can FaceTime with their loved ones that are in the hospital," she said.
When staff or patients are feeling low, the nurses have 'hope huddles' where they get together to think of new ways to stay positive. One 'hope huddle' idea was to play the favorite song of a COVID-19 patient to celebrate their recovery, Evans said.
Northwestern Medicine has lowered its nurse-to-patient ratio so that staff can spend more time caring for patients with COVID-19, Evans said.
Many Illinois hospitals are hiring additional nursing staff so that they are able to provide this kind of high-quality care to patients as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb, according to job postings on Indeed and Zip Recruiter.
Northwestern Medicine has been contacting retired nurses, asking them to return to work to help in the fight against COVID-19, said Corinne Haviley, Vice President and Chief Nursing Executive at NM Kishwaukee Hospital and NM Valley West Hospital.
On March 23, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation announced it would allow nurses with non-renewed, inactive or expired licenses to renew their licenses temporarily, removing all fees and continuing education requirements.
“We are trying to develop staffing plans to accommodate an increase in demand for critical care patients," Haviley said.
According to a news release from April 1, Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox has seen a dramatic increase in COVID-19 patients, with 40 confirmed cases and 28 probable cases for a total of 68 patients in isolation.
Silver Cross Hospital has implemented its emergency preparedness plan to deal with this influx in patients, according to Director of Marketing and Community Relations Debra Robbins.
"Silver Cross is blessed with an amazing team of nurses who always put our patients first," Robbins wrote in an emailed statement.
With elective surgeries postponed, Armour said NM Huntley Hospital has begun pulling nurses from operating rooms in other departments and training them to work in the Intensive Care Unit.
All of Northwestern's locations have initiated this kind of cross-departmental training, including Kishwaukee and Valley West, Haviley said.
“When you think about a nurse that's recovering a patient from surgery, those are the same skills as an ICU nurse has," she said.
Some nurses have been asked to join a task force which will oversee the construction and preparation of additional ICU beds as part of NM Huntley Hospital’s “surge planning," according to Armour.
“When we're taking like the general medicine unit and trying to outfit it for an ICU, the nurse’s voice is really valued because the nurses are the ones that are walking those medicine units with us to say things like ‘Look, we need dual monitors,’” she said.
Hospital staff are working to have a total of 50 ICU beds ready to go in case of a surge. The hospital typically runs with just a 12-bed ICU, but Armour said she is confident in their ability to reach this goal swiftly.
The state continues to monitor the capacity levels of Illinois hospitals and is working to increase the number of ICU beds, Gov. JB Pritzker said in his COVID-19 news conference on April 7.
“As of [April 6], 43% of our total hospital beds are available,” Pritzker said. “And 35% of our ICU beds are available.”
The Governor's Office has been in constant contact with hospital leadership and will oversee the distribution and transfer of supplies if necessary, he added.