I know there’s a lot of fear right now with the increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in the United States, and there’s even more fear when we start talking about shutting down schools and closing restaurants and taking a lot of measures to do social distancing.
But I think that should be our message of hope today. Social distancing actually works, and it is our best defense right now against this rising epidemic in our country.
Many people feel like we’re overreacting by closing schools and restaurants and not going to the movies, but actually it is our best hope for really making a change in the curve of acceleration of this illness in our country.
At a time when people across Chicagoland are feeling anxiety about the coronavirus spread, we find ourselves reflecting on work to design a hospital that would stand ready to support Chicago in times of great need. It was 15 years ago that we first crafted the strategies that led to the opening of the iconic hospital building at Ashland and the Eisenhower in 2012.
People often reflect on the interesting design of the building. But they don’t often get to see much of the functionality that we designed into it. One of the many aspects of the design is the preparedness for pandemic scenarios that might lead to large surges in potentially infected patients and provide an environment that protects both patients and the staff working in the building.
In the emergency department, the ambulance drop-off bays can convert into a large-scale decontamination zone, and the emergency room itself was built to expand its bed capacity by more than two and a half times its normal capacity.
Computerized controls allow physicians and nurses to alter the airflow in the emergency room to create special surge isolation capacity if a serious contagion was identified. And in the Brennan Pavilion, columns can turn into patient care locations in the case of a true emergency scenario.
The sophisticated air-handling control continues in the hospital’s bed tower. In fact, if you look at the butterfly-shaped top half of that building, a quarter of that building at a time can be converted from the normal, everyday air handling of typical hospital units to special, large-scale isolation capacity to again provide an environment that maximally protects both patients and staff.
It stands as an important component of preparedness for Chicagoans and one of those things that you build thinking (and hoping) that you may never need it. But in times like these, we’re glad to know it’s there.
Anthony Perry, MD, is vice president of ambulatory transformation at Rush University Medical Center.