FILE - Dr. Ngozi Ezike, Illinois Department of Public Health, 1-30-2020

Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, speaks at a news conference Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020, in Chicago.

(The Center Square) – The Illinois Department of Public Health quietly removed thousands of available hospital beds from their data showing how much capacity Illinois’ medical centers have. 

The number of available hospital beds is closely tracked by the state as a barometer of how much stress the COVID-19 pandemic is placing on Illinois’ medical system. The state has more than 30,000 total general use hospital beds. The lower the number of free beds, the worse the COVID-19 pandemic is becoming. 

For overall hospital beds, the state lowered the number of free beds to 8,132 from 10,232 from Nov. 18 to Nov. 19. IDPH removed 495 available ICU beds in the same time frame, taking the number from 1,113 to 618 free ICU beds.  

A political reporter asked Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Dr. Ngozi Ezike about the Illinois Department of Public Health’s website reflecting the thousands of available beds no longer on their record. 

“We actually need to know how many beds are available that have staff that could actually work it,” Ezike said. “When you put that extra clause, that actually you would have the staff to man that bed now, the numbers drop significantly.”

Pritzker called the issue “subjective” on the hospitals’ part.

“If you’ve got an empty room that’s in a hall and you’ve got a certain number of staff and you’ve been serving, let’s say, ten rooms, and you’ve got two others on a hallway, could you fill the other two with the same staff and still manage that? Again, with double shifts and people working longer hours. It’s possible.”

Ezike used the sudden change in available hospital beds earlier in the news conference to exhibit how quickly COVID-19 resource scarcity could hit the medical industry. 

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Staff Reporter

Cole Lauterbach reports on Illinois and Arizona government and statewide issues for The Center Square. He has produced radio shows for stations in Central Illinois and created award-winning programs for Comcast SportsNet Chicago.