ROCHELLE — Rochelle Community Hospital CEO Gregg Olson said last week that over the last several weeks the hospital has seen a “significant” increase in the number of non-COVID-19 inpatients it treats.
“There have been days where we have not had a bed available,” Olson said. “That's pretty unusual for us. We've actually had to board a couple people in our emergency room to wait for beds to open up upstairs. We've not done that before, that I'm familiar with. And the inpatients we're taking care of are sicker than we've typically seen in the past.”
RCH is still seeing COVID-19 patients and is averaging 1-2 per day, Olson said. It had many more during earlier times in the pandemic.
“It's not the COVID-19 patients that are overrunning us right now with the volumes,” Olson said. “It's sick people with other diagnoses.”
RCH has also seen a “significant” increase in the number of patients it’s treating in its emergency department, Olson said. In the last several months it’s seen “probably close to double” the amount of patients it usually sees, he said.
That isn’t just specific to RCH. Olson has colleagues all over the state that run similar-sized hospitals that are seeing the same scenario.
The hospital has also seen increased numbers of surgeries, Olson said. He believes some of that is due to having a new orthopedic surgeon on staff, but the increase is being seen in other surgical areas.
Olson believes part of the reason surgery rooms, the ER and medical floor have been busier is patients deferring care due to the pandemic.
“People have chronic conditions and the chronic conditions have worsened because of reluctance to go to a hospital because of the fear of attracting the virus,” Olson said. “Now, people feel a little more comfortable and they are coming in more. We are starting to see these individuals who probably should have come in earlier. We've felt the impact of that."
When the pandemic first hit, hospitals like RCH closed down some of their departments such as the cardiac rehabilitation center, fitness center and cafeteria. He said the message that conveyed, whether RCH realized it or not, was that people should not come in unless they were really sick due to having COVID-19 patients in-house.
“It's not that we chased people out of here, but we just wanted to be transparent with people and say we did have the virus in this building,” Olson said. “If you're really sick, please come in. Don't not come in. But if it's something that can wait or you're not quite that ill, then you have to make an informed decision.”
Olson said due to the pandemic and closing departments, RCH and the industry as a whole saw a “huge” drop in volumes. He said RCH had some of the worst revenue months of its fiscal history. But that was the best way RCH found to keep its patients, visitors, staff and community safe.
“I think it was those actions that were taken early on that made people say, 'I'm not going in there. I'm going to stay home,’” Olson said. “And they did. Now, unfortunately in some situations, people probably should've come in. I can't speak in specifics, but we have just seen a huge increase in the number of patients we're seeing and they're sicker."
As far as whether RCH will continue to see higher inpatient numbers, Olson said that is yet to be seen. He doesn’t think the hospital is at a point now where it could justify adding beds. It does have the ability to, if needed, add a level of 10 percent a year without state approval.
But, 90 percent of what RCH does is outpatient, Olson said. And he doesn’t think it’s going to stray too far from that.
“I think we're going to continue to be mostly an outpatient facility that has good inpatient capabilities,” Olson said. “And we'll have to see how this looks in the future. If we continue to see these high census numbers, yeah I think we have to think about what next steps we need to take.”
RCH did get extra beds from the state during the pandemic that were kept in reserve. They actually were not used due to the pandemic. Inpatient numbers didn’t get “out of hand” during that time, he said, but it’s now that RCH is seeing the “big numbers.”
Late in September, Olson said RCH was “bursting at the seams” due to increased inpatient numbers. That has lessened since.
“Now it's slowing down a little bit and getting back to normal,” Olson said. “I think we'll probably end up getting back to where we were in time. As we grow as an organization and add more services, obviously our strategy is to attract more people. And we've been successful. Part of it is we're also gaining some market share. That's part of it, too. If that continues then I think we have to look at it."