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Illinois Hospital Fighting To Serve COVID-19 Patients Amid Financial Struggles


Hospitals are struggling to keep up with the fight against COVID-19. Saint Anthony Hospital in Chicago's South Lawndale neighborhood has also been fighting for its financial health. The hospital says in a lawsuit, the state of Illinois owes it Medicaid reimbursements. And, of course, in the meantime, the virus continues to ravage its community, and the hospital tries to still serve and protect. Dr. Alfredo Mena Lora is the medical director of infection prevention at Saint Anthony Hospital in Chicago. Doctor, thanks so much for being with us.

ALFREDO MENA LORA: Thank you very much for inviting me.

SIMON: I gather you've had to do some improvising, haven't you?

MENA LORA: Yes, I think this pandemic came with a lot of challenges and PPE and overall acquisition of materials that, frankly, in normal times, we take for granted. We've all had to try to improvise and open different supply lines. We've received donations of PPE, and we've had to improvise with our CaviWipes as well, the wipes that we use to clean surfaces.

SIMON: Well, tell us what you've done with that.

MENA LORA: It's interesting how at a time of significant need - of course, not just in our city and in our hospital but worldwide - it's expected that some of these supply lines have been under stress. But we were able to find a formula to create our own disinfectant. And using kind of a bucket and the formula, we create our own wipes. And with that, we develop it every day, and we are using it to be able to improvise and be able to continue delivering high-quality care and being able to clean our work areas and other places, as well.

SIMON: Tell us what COVID-19 has meant in your community, your neighborhood, which, as a fellow Chicagoan, I would call Little Village.

MENA LORA: Yeah. So Little Village and Lawndale is a community in the West Side of Chicago. And in general, our hospital has been serving this community for over 100 years. COVID-19 has - you know, we're all used to feeling like we're in pause, you know? Our kids are not going to school. We can't do certain activities. But to a certain extent, COVID-19 has accelerated a lot of things, as well. And there are health disparities in North Lawndale and Lawndale and Little Village, the areas that our hospital serves, that have been there before COVID. However, COVID - and, you know, a lot of this - it's unclear 100% why, perhaps due to preexisting conditions, like diabetes and hypertension. These are the same groups of patients that are experiencing a much higher mortality. But at the same time, it's a community where it's harder to practice quarantine. And there are other socioeconomic and cultural issues that may affect that, as well.

SIMON: Explain that to us, about it's harder to practice quarantine 'cause a lot of people may not understand what you're talking about, I'm afraid.

MENA LORA: Absolutely. We have seen - many of our patients are essential workers. Many of our patients may be working in delivery or supermarkets.

SIMON: Yeah.

MENA LORA: And, similarly, their households may have other members. And another important barrier may be education materials and the language that - some of these communities are primarily Latinx at the moment, as well. And, therefore, sometimes, implementing these and disseminating information can be a barrier, as well.

SIMON: And we can't successfully get into the lawsuit here representing all sides, but the hospital needs money, too, doesn't it?

MENA LORA: I can tell you that as a physician, I work with underserved populations. And patients can be uninsured or underinsured. So, certainly, this is part of a broader issue. And these community hospitals like ours - they reflect the communities in which they exist. Many of our own employees exist - you know, live in the community, but the hospital itself represents the insurance pool in our community.

SIMON: Any source of hope at the moment for you?

MENA LORA: I could tell you that my biggest source of hope throughout all of this time have been people. I have had neighbors who I don't even know drop masks in my front door 'cause they see me with a lab coat leaving my house. And early on in this crisis, I reread a book by Albert Camus, "The Plague." And I've used a quote from it to thank people when they do things like that. And the doctor in that book is asked, how do you defeat a plague? And he says that you do so with decency. And I think the decency of my co-workers, my neighbors, our neighbors is really a big source of positive and of hope throughout all of this.

SIMON: Dr. Alfredo Mena Lora is medical director of infection prevention at Saint Anthony Hospital in Chicago. Good luck to you, Doctor. Thanks so much.

MENA LORA: Thank you, guys. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.