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Virtual mental, physical health services expanding in Southern Illinois

81 additional coronavirus deaths reported in Illinois

By REBECCA ANZEL, Capitol News Illinois

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. JB Pritzker’s administration announced new initiatives Saturday to extend telehealth services and mental health support throughout the state to support people who are coping, either physically or mentally, with the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19.

The state’s confirmed case and death counts continue to rise, the governor said, and families are experiencing “circumstances that may cause you to feel despair.”

Adults are either working from home or out of a job. School children are out of classes, learning online. And if loved ones are battling COVID-19 at home or in a hospital, quarantine protocols dictate they cannot be interacted with.

The Illinois Department of Public Health said 81 Illinoisans died over a 24-hour period, in Champaign, Cook, DuPage, Jackson, Kankakee, Lake, McHenry, St. Clair, Will and Winnebago counties. In all, 677 fatalities are linked to the novel coronavirus.

Additionally, department Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said there are 1,293 more confirmed cases, bringing the state’s total to 19,180 COVID-19 positive tests in 86 counties.

“We are living in a deeply unprecedented moment and holding the emotional ramifications of that inside will be harder on you,” Pritzker said. “It’s OK to feel, and please know that you don’t have to feel it all alone.”

The state Department of Human Services began an emotional support resource for those feeling COVID-19-related stresses. It is free of charge and anonymous. Those interested can access it by texting “TALK” to 552020 or “HABLAR” for Spanish-language services.

Once a message is sent, a counselor from one of 62 community mental health centers will call and listen.

“We recognize that the mental well-being of Illinois is strained as a result of the pandemic,” Kia Coleman, Department of Human Services’ assistant secretary, said. “… We would like Illinois Call for Calm to be another resource to address these fears and concerns.”

Illinoisans may also send a message to that number with other key words, including “UNEMPLOYMENT,” FOOD” or “SHELTER” to receive helpful information.

Pritzker additionally announced a telehealth program for those experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, but who do not need emergency or other in-person care. It is designed to allow residents to recover at home, thereby easing the burden on the state’s hospitals.

Those who call will be connected with a health-care worker who establishes “daily virtual visits” and arranges for a wellness kit, including a thermometer, blood pressure cuff and alcohol wipes, to be sent to their home.

“This program serves to reduce barriers to physical health and mental health services in all communities and income levels, especially underserved communities and those most at risk during this pandemic,” the governor said.

Southern Illinois University’s School of Medicine is serving those in southern and central Illinois — throughout Carbondale, the Metro East St. Louis, Quincy, Decatur and Springfield, Pritzker said. The phone number to reach this service, (833) 673-5669, will be available Monday.

OSF Health Care is serving northern central Illinois communities such as Alton, Peoria, Champaign-Urbana, Monmouth, Ottawa, Bloomington and Pontiac. That hotline, (217) 545-5100, became operable Saturday.

A similar program for northern Illinoisans will launch this week, Pritzker said.


The governor addressed what children and adolescents are “seeing and hearing and feeling” about the effects of COVID-19 by hosting a virtual town hall meeting Saturday afternoon. It will be available to watch later, on Facebook.

In a message to the state’s youth, Pritzker added the Easter bunny is essential personnel, and therefore will be working Sunday.
State officials consider extending the stay-at-home order daily, the governor said, but no firm decision has been made. The current order extends through April 30.

In a message to golf courses and other facilities allowing Illinoisans to congregate, Pritzker added “this is not a time to loosen the standards that you’ve set under this COVID-19 crisis.”

“We are just beginning to bend the curve here,” he said. “This is a good sign, but this is not an indication that we should be letting up on those standards.”

It is impossible to know what circumstances will lead to the stay-at-home order and other restrictions being lifted, Pritzker added. That depends on health officials widely testing Illinoisans, their ability to trace how the virus is spreading and the development of a COVID-19 treatment.

“I think we should all keep our hopes up that those things collectively, that we’ll be able to make significant progress over the coming weeks,” Pritzker said.


HSHS Medical Group collaborates with Walgreens Find Care on access to care from home

HSHS Medical Group today announced an expanded collaboration with Walgreens Find Care™ to offer features as part of a national network of telehealth providers that connects patients with more options to get convenient and affordable access to care from their computers and mobile devices. This initiative coincides with guidance from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to use telehealth to help address medical needs while supporting social distancing, an important step in managing the impact of COVID-19.

“We are pleased to increase patient access to Anytime Care by partnering with Walgreens at a time when virtual health care is vital to the well-being of our communities,” said Vince Noel, vice president of strategy and business development with HSHS Medical Group. “HSHS Medical Group has waived the fee for Anytime Care virtual visits related to screening and evaluation of coronavirus (COVID-19). While we see patients for many non-emergent, urgent care conditions, Anytime Care providers are equipped to assess patients who may be experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and provide instructions on next steps for the patient’s health and the safety of those around them.”

Walgreens Find Care allows patients to connect with a local provider from trusted national and local health systems, like HSHS Medical Group, to receive care for common health and wellness needs like illness and injury, cough and cold, mental health services and chronic condition management. With expanded features and additional national and regional partners, patients can now connect with more than 30 providers who treat over 100 conditions through Walgreens Find Care, available through the Walgreens app or online at

“The recent expansion of Walgreens Find Care is another example of how we are enabling patients to get care when and how they need it,” said Giovanni Monti, senior vice president of health care services, Walgreens Boots Alliance. “We continue to grow our partnerships with some of the most trusted local and national providers to offer telehealth solutions that can help patients better meet their acute and chronic care needs, especially during this unprecedented time of social distancing.”

Anytime Care allows patients to receive medical care in the privacy of their own home or office 24/7 via a smartphone, computer or tablet. When patients call or visit, they will speak with a board-certified medical provider who will care for them as if they were in for an office visit.

Our medical providers can diagnose and treat non-emergent health concerns, as well as prescribe medications as needed. Our providers will always assess your condition individually, and based on your unique circumstances (including the severity of the illness), may need to refer you to in-person care for proper diagnosis and treatment.

An appointment is not necessary, and as soon as you request a visit, a time is arranged with the next available provider. If there are longer waits there is an option for you to leave your name and they will call you back.

Any associated lab tests will be billed to the patient’s insurance. All calls not related to COVID-19 will be charged the regular $29 fee. If you are concerned about your symptoms, visit, download the app or call 1 (844) 391-4747 to start your medical visit.


OSF HealthCare partnering with state of Illinois in fight against COVID-19

OSF HealthCare is launching a Pandemic Health Worker Program (PHWP) that will serve individuals with COVID-19 symptoms. Through a contract with the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, the PHWP is designed to protect the well-being of the general public during the COVID pandemic.

Pandemic Health Workers (PHWs) will digitally connect with referred clients who are experiencing COVID symptoms and need to stay home or quarantine to protect themselves and others. Through this program, OSF HealthCare and the State of Illinois will proactively and digitally support those needing care, while also reducing the potential influx of non-emergent patients into a hospital’s emergency department.

“The PHW program is an extension of OSF Healthcare System’s role in providing compassion and competence in a healthcare crisis,” said John Vozenilek, MD, Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of Innovation and Digital Health for OSF HealthCare. “Equipped with technology, PHWs will visit care recipients on a daily basis, deliver kits that include essential tools to monitor their health, and follow-up over a 14-day period to ensure no further assistance is needed.”

When assigned to the PHWP, a client will receive health monitoring tools, depending on what already is available in the home, and will typically stay in the program for 14 days. A PHW will be connecting with at least 27 clients per month.

A person is eligible for the PHWP if he or she is showing COVID-19 symptoms, or is at high risk for contracting the virus, but does not require emergency or inpatient care, and can be digitally monitored at home. They must first call the COVID-19 Nurse Hotline (833-OSF-KNOW) and be digitally triaged by a nurse. Depending on the answers to the screening questions, the nurse or other provider will determine if they are eligible for the PHWP. If enrolled, the client will be notified and receive a phone call from a PHW within 48 hours.

The PHWP is one of many innovative programs created by OSF HealthCare to manage COVID-19 patients. The health care Ministry has also integrated an AI symptom checker into its website’s digital assistant, a chatbot named Clare. A 24/7 nurse triage line at 833-OSF KNOW (833-673-5669) fields calls from across Illinois about the virus, and a free text messaging tool called OSF COVID Companion pushes guidance about COVID-19. As of April 2, a video visit option is available as well. On the first day of operation, there were 19 video visits from a broad geographical area in Illinois and included both pediatric and adult patients.

“We are grateful the state of Illinois saw promise in the multi-pronged, digital response, we developed to manage COVID-19,” said Michelle Conger, Chief Strategy Officer and Chief Executive Officer of Saint Gabriel for OSF HealthCare.  “With an expected increase in the number of coronavirus cases in the coming weeks, we believe the Pandemic Health Worker Program will help alleviate pressure from hospitals, and protect health care workers, and patients, from further spread of the virus.”

Teams of PHWs will be stationed throughout Illinois with the first groups established in Alton, Evergreen Park and Peoria/Bloomington. The program will eventually expand to serve communities in and around Champaign/ Urbana/Danville, Galesburg/Kewanee/Monmouth, Ottawa/Mendota/Streator, Pontiac and Rockford. OSF HealthCare is expected to initially serve 8,400 people through its PHWs each month when all locations are activated.

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