SIH responds to COVID-19 pandemic on local level

By Brooke Buerck, Sports Reporter

In the past two weeks, Southern Illinois Healthcare has implemented extensive measures to protect patients and staff amidst the southern Illinois region’s response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

One of SIH’s key developments in helping limit the spread of COVID-19 has been the introduction of a 24-hour toll-free hotline for those who may have symptoms consistent with or may have been exposed to the virus strain. 

“We want everyone to first, call their family doctor or this hotline. This helps us reduce unnecessary clinic and emergency department visits, and we have clinicians that are manning those phone lines that walk through the current screening criteria with every caller,” SIH spokesperson Rosslind Rice said. 


Rice said as of March 24, SIH has received 3,720 calls to their hotline. 

Of those screened, Rice said as of March 24, 1,500 were referred to a telephone visit with one of SIH’s healthcare providers – either a doctor, physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner. 

“If, after that initial call it’s determined that the caller needs to speak with one of our providers, […] the call becomes a virtual visit,” Rice said. 

Providers then assess a caller’s symptoms and determine their risk of developing complications based on their medical history and current conditions. 

Rice said populations that fall into this potential at-risk category include people over the age of 65, people with chronic health problems like diabetes, heart disease, chronic renal failure, chronic lung disease, COPD, or individuals with a compromised immune system. 

If warranted, Rice said the next step is either treatment options for acute illness or referral to one of SIH’s drive-through specimen-collecting sites, where a nasal swab will be performed. 

Rice said 637 people as of March 24 have sought a lab test via drive-through nasal swab


According to SIH’s website, tests are performed inside a person’s vehicle – a staff member wearing PPE (personal protective equipment) performs the nasal swab from the passenger seat. 

Nasal swabs are intended to first rule out COVID-19 by testing for a variety of other illnesses first – including influenza, rhinovirus, and other non-COVID-19 strains of the coronavirus that are in the community but do not pose an imminent threat, Rice said. 

Based on lab results from an initial nasal swab at one of SIH’s drive-through testing sites, a doctor or provider will determine whether sending the specimen off for testing at a commercial lab for COVID-19 is necessary. 

“Testing [for COVID-19] is not unlimited, so we’re trying to be good stewards with the testing we have available,” Rice said.

Rice said as of March 24, about 300 out of the 637 specimens collected via drive-through were sent for commercial lab testing for the COVID-19 coronavirus strain. 

As of March 26, the southern Illinois region has confirmed four cases of COVID-19, including most recently one individual in Franklin County, two in Jackson County and one in Williamson County.

Rice said with a limited capacity to perform COVID-19 tests, it’s important to prevent further spread of the virus strain within the community. 

“We don’t want to discourage anyone from accessing the healthcare system, whether it’s a doctor, particularly if their symptoms are getting worse,” Rice said. “However, the vast majority of patients with COVID-19 will have a relatively mild, self-limiting illness, and that will resolve on its own.”

Young people with mild symptoms of illness – including light cough without shortness of breath – are urged to stay at home, monitor their symptoms, and practice self care like staying hydrated and covering coughs and sneezes, Rice said. 

SIH, along with the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, urges people to refrain from spending time in public and practice social distancing. 

“These really are the kinds of things that are going to make the difference between our healthcare system becoming overwhelmed by a surge of patients, and us being able to effectively care for our community,” Rice said. 

Within the healthcare system, SIH has implemented new policies and procedures for both inpatient and outpatient clinics as well to protect patients and staff members. 

As hospitals and clinics nationwide are reporting shortages of PPE available for staff members, especially face masks, Rice said SIH clinics are taking measures to conserve PPE and masks in particular. 

“Right now at this time SIH has [an] adequate supply of masks and has implemented conservation measures particularly for masks as next shipment is awaited,” Rice said. 

As of March 23, SIH announced suspension of visitations within its facilities, including SIH Memorial Hospital of Carbondale, SIH Herrin Hospital and SIH St. Joseph Memorial Hospital, with exceptions possible for extraordinary circumstances. 

“All visitors to SIH facilities will have their temperature checked and complete a COVID-19 screening upon entry. Visitors will not be allowed to enter if they have fever, respiratory symptoms or exposure risk. Visitors under the age of 18 will not be permitted,” SIH’s announcement said. 

Entrances to each hospital as well have been limited to the main entrances and Emergency Department entrances only, with screenings for staff members as well. 

For more information from SIH on novel coronavirus, visit their website at

To contact SIH’s toll-free hotline, call 844-988-7800.

Sports reporter Brooke Buerck can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @bbuerck25.

To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.