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Rush Medical Center raises tent in ambulance bay to test coronavirus patients

It gives the rest of the facility an extra line of defense against the easily spread virus.

Rush University Medical Center’s forward triage center for Coronavirus placed in one of the hospitals ambulance bays, Tuesday, March 10, 2020.
Rush University Medical Center’s forward triage center for coronavirus placed in one of the hospitals ambulance bays, Tuesday, March 10, 2020.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Rush University Medical Center is preparing its facilities for continued spread of coronavirus by raising a tent inside its ambulance bay to test patients in isolation.

The tent is separate from the rest of the facility and gives the hospital an extra layer of protection from the easily spread virus.

Its purpose is “forward triage,” which means Rush doctors will determine the priority of a patient’s treatments before they enter the hospital.

“‘Forward triage’ is usually reserved for mass casualty events … it is usually more of a military term,” said James DeVries, an instructor of emergency medicine at Rush. “In this scenario, we’re taking out the triage process and making it relate to infectious disease — isolating at-risk patients for coronavirus so we can maintain other patients’ safety while providing care.”

Air inside the tent and ambulance bay is sanitized before it’s exhausted outside to avoid cross-contamination elsewhere. The tent was put up Monday, according to Rush spokesman Charles Jolie.

Chairs for patients to sit and wait to be tested, each chair is exactly 6 feet apart, at Rush University Medical Center’s forward triage center for Coronavirus placed in one of the hospitals ambulance bays, Tuesday, March 10, 2020.
Chairs for patients to sit and wait to be tested, each chair is exactly 6 feet apart, at Rush University Medical Center’s forward triage center for coronavirus placed in one of the hospitals ambulance bays, Tuesday, March 10, 2020.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

The separation of coronavirus patients and the hospital’s other patients is intended to keep already-at-risk people from being exposed to the virus.

“If somebody [with coronavirus] is out in a waiting room sitting with everyone else, then there’s a risk to spread it to other people — that more at-risk population, elderly people with clinical health conditions we’re most worried about in this scenario,” DeVries said.

The hospital has already treated one patient for coronavirus and said it’s uniquely qualified to treat more. Rush is one of 35 federally designated hospitals that were created with infectious disease treatment in mind.

“We had received a large amount of funding from The McCormick Foundation for advanced emergency preparedness, with roots in 9/11 and the ebola outbreak,” DeVries said. “The funding provided allowed us to create an infrastructure that allows us to expand our care for the Chicagoland area in events like this.”

Despite being well equipped, patients who suspect they may have the virus should not just show up, DeVries said. Rush is offering on-demand video visits for people concerned they may be infected.

“We’ll evaluate [people] for risk when they show up, but that overwhelms our system,” he said.

Michael F. Craig, apart of Rush University Medical Centers Engineering-Management, shows a picture of the drawn floor plan of the forward triage center for Coronavirus placed in one of the hospitals ambulance bays, Tuesday, March 10, 2020.
Michael F. Craig, a part of Rush University Medical Center Engineering-Management, shows a picture of the drawn floor plan of the forward triage center for coronavirus placed in one of the hospitals ambulance bays, Tuesday, March 10, 2020.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times