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Federal Disaster Team Coming To UChicago Medicine's Ingalls Memorial Hospital Amid COVID Surge; Nurse Says It's Needed, But Not Long-Term Fix

HARVEY, Ill. (CBS) -- Federal help is now coming to UChicago Medicine and their Ingalls Memorial Hospital in Harvey, to assist with the COVID surge and staffing.

A 26-person national disaster team of nurses, doctors, and paramedics will be on hand for two weeks.

"I'm grateful to our federal partners for bringing more skilled support staff to Illinois hospitals hit hard by COVID-19," Gov. JB Pritzker said in a news release announcing the federal assistance. "This latest 26-person team will provide vital support to medical workers at UChicago Medicine Ingalls, allowing them to continue providing lifesaving care for all patients. My administration will continue to do everything we can to support our health care institutions as they pursue creative and safe solutions to build capacity for patient care throughout this unprecedented crisis."

"Our health care workers continue to work tirelessly as we see the highest number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 than at any time during the pandemic," Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in the news release. "As we do everything we can to help reduce the burden on hospitals, please help lighten the load of hospital workers by getting vaccinated, boosted, and wearing a mask."

CBS 2's Charlie De Mar talked Tuesday night with a nurse at Ingalls Memorial. She said the help coming to her hospital is much-needed, but she fears that it is not a long-term fix.

Sandra Gonzalez said she took the selfie below after she was worn out following yet another long shift as a nurse at Ingalls Memorial.

Sandra Gonzalez
Sandra Gonzalez

"The staffing lately is beginning to cause a moral distress problem," she said.

Gonzalez said with a shortage of nurses and surge of COVID patients, care has suffered. She adds that isolating COVID patients is no longer possible in the emergency room.

"You just don't feel like you're taking good care of your patients, and then you go home, and you're sad because that's not why I wanted to be a nurse," Gonzalez said.

Pictures taken inside the hospital and posted to social media show wait times of more than 40 hours. Gonzalez said she has seen even longer.

"We had somebody that had been out there for 56 hours - and they stayed," she said.

To relieve some of the pressure at Ingalls Memorial, the 26-person team of health care professionals sent by the federal government at the state's request are now working inside.

"It is absolutely welcomed," Gonzalez said, "because now, patients can get their medications on time. Now, people can get fed."

The federal surge team will be on the ground for two weeks, which has Gonzalez concerned that the hospital will be back in the same spot once the help is gone.

"Although we're very grateful, it's not a really long-term solution - and that's what we need, something a little bit long-term," Gonzalez said.

A spokesperson for the hospital says there were 71 COVID patients at Ingalls Memorial as of Monday.

Tom Jackiewicz, Chief Operating Officer of the University of Chicago Medicine health system, issued the following statement:

"The record number of COVID-19 cases and breakthrough infections among fully vaccinated healthcare workers has been especially difficult on health systems across the country, including ours. UChicago Medicine's frontline staff have faced incredible pressures throughout this pandemic and are rising to the challenge in a way that's nothing short of heroic.

While we've worked internally to support our teams by redeploying staff and hiring additional workers, we're incredibly grateful to get this much-needed assistance from state and federal teams. This help is a welcome relief to our caregivers and support staff who've been working tirelessly for nearly two years to provide care for our patients and the community."

Statewide, 6,695 people were hospitalized with COVID as of Tuesday. That is down from 7,353 on Jan. 10.

But in the city of Chicago, hospitalizations are up 18 percent from the previous week - averaging 204 a day.

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