University of Chicago Medicine (UCM) spent more than 24 hours on Wednesday and Thursday operating at maximum capacity as it treated a critically high volume of patients. The hospital was placed on “internal disaster” designation and physicians’ teams were told to put all hands on deck, surging staff and resources.
No single cause triggered the crisis, but a combination of factors led to the shortage of beds, UCM spokesperson Ashley Heher told The Maroon.
An email circulated by UCM’s Emergency Operations Center on Wednesday morning informed staff: “Due to extreme overcrowding in the Adult ED [emergency department], a high volume of surgical cases, and an increase in overall inpatient volume, the Hospital Incident Command Team has been activated and is asking everyone to defer to non-essential work to address this urgent issue regarding patient care. Staff who support patient care, please surge staff/resources to assist with patients.”
An email sent at 9:25 a.m. on Thursday informed staff that operations had returned to normal, but said UCM continues to experience “ongoing and critical capacity issues on the Hyde Park medical campus due to high volumes.”
Heher told The Maroon that UChicago Medicine’s emergency care was uninterrupted by the surge.
“The hospital’s emergency departments continued to accept trauma patients during the entire period and provided ongoing emergency medical care, although many patients with less severe health issues experienced long wait times,” Heher said.
The hospital has taken temporary measures to accommodate patients, including relocating some adults to Comer Children’s Hospital. Comer normally provides inpatient care to some young adults—often individuals who experienced chronic childhood diseases and have continued treatment into adulthood—however, housing additional adult patients from UCM is a crisis measure. Only “a handful of appropriate patients” were moved, Heher told The Maroon.
On the emergency designation, Heher told The Maroon that an “internal disaster” is “a standard term used in hospital operations to address any number of events that could potentially impact an organization’s facilities,” and that declaring an internal disaster allows hospitals “to deploy a variety of internal resources.”