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Smaller Hospitals In Chicago Can Have 2-Week Waits For COVID-19 Test Results

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Doctors and patients are dealing with two week waits for COVID-19 test results at some smaller hospitals in Chicago.

St. Anthony Hospital, a small community hospital with only 18 beds for the acutely ill, now has 11 of its 18 intensive care unit beds occupied by patients who have suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases.

"We call it a level three disaster," said Dr. Zaher Sahloul. "It is overwhelming the system."

Sahloul runs the ICU at St. Anthony with a team of other dedicated doctors and nurses. He says they are doing their best to save lives, but it's a challenge when many of the black patients they are treating for coronavirus have underlying chronic illnesses. Plus, compared to non-minorities they come to the emergency room much later.

"That means the virus has been in their body for a long time causing the system response, causing flooding of the lungs," Sahloul said.

Everyone is working overtime, but the job is made harder because the hospital doesn't have the equipment needed to analyze COVID-19 tests in-house. They have to send those to an outside lab.

"It takes two weeks," said Sahloul. "I'm very distressed to say that. Two weeks to get results of COVID-19 testing in a patient at St. Anthony's. It takes one day at Christ Hospital because at Christ Hospital has the luxury of doing things in-house."

Not knowing the test results can affect patient treatments.

"Patients and doctors need to know that this patient has this disease, so you can direct certain treatment and resources with them," Sahloul said. "If you don't know, you're just guessing."

The disparity in resources between this smaller community hospital and major medical centers like Advocate Christ, where Sahloul also works, is not new, but the pandemic highlights the impact on black lives. For example Sahloul says Christ has 230 ventilators, and 48 are being used. St. Anthony has 17 and 11 are in use. So they're about to run out.

"If you don't have access to advanced resources not present in community hospitals, then you will not have a chance of living," he said.

Sahloul is extending an open invitation to all policy makers to visit the hospital and talk to the doctors and nurses, so they can see that the need is now.

Statewide 20% of people who get tested for COVID-19 are positive, but at St. Anthony it's 50%.

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