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County lab trains front line health care workers to deal with our ‘worst nightmares’
The county’s simulation lab, which is training doctors, nurses, residents, medical students and first responders, among others across the county, to “be prepared for critically ill COVID-19 patients,” Preckwinkle said Tuesday.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020
Chicago Sun-Times
by Rachel Hinton

Dr. Michelle Sergel’s job is to imagine “the worst of the worst” — the sort of “things that make you stay up at night.”

Then she tries to devise a plan to fight it, so the rest of us can rest a little easier.

“My job is to figure out what our worst nightmares are and try to figure out how we can deal with them in an organized way so that we are helping with patient outcomes and protecting ourselves,” Sergel said.

Sergel is head of a Cook County health lab that is giving first responders hands-on training to care for COVID-positive patients as well as how to use a potential new ventilator as the county — and the nation — try to work through our current collective nightmare.

The county’s simulation lab is training doctors, nurses, residents, medical students, first responders and others across the county to “be prepared for critically ill COVID-19 patients,” Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said Tuesday.

“[The simulation lab has] been critical to ensuring that all clinicians have the tools that they need if they’re called upon to work on the critical care unit at their hospitals,” Preckwinkle said.

The lab is also training doctors on using an ASL 5000 breathing simulator, which is part of the mechanical ventilator Milano project — an international collaboration that hopes to develop a low-cost, efficient way to build a ventilator, which is in the final stages of approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

Sergel said the lab she oversees is preparing for “the worst of the worst” when it comes to potential scenarios and the need for ventilators in the county “changes day by day.”

Sergel said the county’s ICUs are “getting very full,” much like those across the country, but the county’s hospitals are managing and, to her knowledge, the county hasn’t run out of ventilators.

“So it’s by design an area that we think of the absolute worst-case scenario — anything, you have a plane hitting a building, anything and everything — things that make you stay up at night,” she said.

So far, “hundreds” of people have been trained, including 113 nurses who’ve been prepared for critical care so they can be sent into ICUs, Sergel said.

Training for those on the front lines for coronavirus-related emergencies began at the end of February or early March, as soon as “it became nationally recognized that we were all going to have to launch and procure” medical professionals, Sergel said.

Sergel couldn’t offer estimates on how much the breathing simulator would cost or when it might receive FDA approval.

Preckwinkle said the county might hit its peak of COVID-19 cases before mid-June, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s projected peak for the state. She said the governor “has to be mindful of the entire state,” not just the very vocal minority calling for him to hasten Illinois’ reopening.

“I think you have to understand that as we open the economy, more people will die,” Preckwinkle said. “These are very, very tough decisions to make . . . the more quickly we open the economy, the more we endanger people. I would be in favor of a gradual approach, and I think that’s where the governor is, I believe.”



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