Wisconsin Hospitals Prepared for Virus Surges
November 18, 2020
Wisconsin hospitals are prepared for surges in COVID-19 cases but are pleading with the public to follow health and safety guidelines so hospitals don’t become completely overwhelmed with positive cases. Medical professionals and public health officials urge the public to remain vigilant in safety practices.
“If urgent action is not taken, we could easily overwhelm our healthcare system here in the Chippewa Valley,” said Richard Helmers, M.D., regional vice president, Mayo Clinic Health System, northwest Wisconsin.
Mayo Clinic Health System, like most hospital systems, has an ever-evolving COVID-19 situation. According to a statement from Helmers, as of the morning of November 17, there are 83 positive inpatients. That number includes hospitals in Barron, Bloomer, Eau Claire, Osseo and Menomonie.
“In addition, COVID-19 testing operations at Mayo Clinic Health System in northwest Wisconsin are generating greater than 1,000 positive tests per week, and positivity rates have recently exceeded 30 percent per day,” Helmers said.
According to the same statement from Helmers, about 50 percent of intensive care capacity at Mayo Clinic Health System facilities contains COVID-19-positive patients, bringing the intensive care unit to its fullest capacity. About 40 percent of the system’s medical surgical units are occupied by COVID-19-positive patients, which also means the medical surgical unit is at full capacity.
Another issue within the Mayo Clinic Health System is keeping staff members healthy and able to work. About 300 staff members in the system are on work restrictions due to exposure to the virus.
“We are pleading for everyone’s help to wear a mask and follow all public health guidelines to limit the spread of this disease,” Helmers said. “One-hundred percent of our beds are full at all hospitals for Mayo Clinic Health System. This is a critically important message our community desperately needs to hear.”
Staff members at SSM St. Mary’s Hospital in Janesville, Wisconsin completed surge patient bedding planning models and critical staffing models early in the pandemic, according to an anonymous nurse who works full-time at the hospital. Supplies were appropriately allocated for critically-ill COVID-19 patients, and the organization has a dedicated space in which to care for patients who have, or are suspected to have, the virus.
Positive cases are lower at SSM St. Mary’s Hospital. About one-third of the hospital’s inpatients are COVID-19-positive patients, according to the anonymous nurse. This number does not include several patients who are evaluated daily in the emergency department for COVID-19. Many patients who test positive are well enough to manage their symptoms at home.
The anonymous nurse said the hospital has had its Hospital Incident Command System open for about eight months. The HICS recently explored options to ensure there is appropriate staff, personal protective equipment, supplies, equipment and spaces to care for a surge of COVID-19 patients. Visitor traffic is limited to help decrease the spread of the virus, and the hospital is considering ceasing all elective surgeries until further notice in order to free up as much space as possible for positive patients.
While patient care staffing has suffered slightly over the last few weeks at SSM St. Mary’s, the nurse said it’s not solely a result of the staff members contracting the virus. Many staff members have simply had personal exposures to the virus through their children or other family members.
“I do expect that over the next several months, with influenza and COVID-19, there will be additional staffing challenges due to the increase in patient census combined with staff illnesses,” said the nurse.
Hand-washing, masking and social distancing are key to help prevent more spreading, said the nurse. Also recommended is avoiding large crowds and staying home when sick.
“Proceed with caution,” said the nurse. “Be diligent in doing your part by hand-washing, masking and social distancing. Unfortunately COVID-19 is not going to simply “go away.” Find some sort of normalcy in our not-so-normal situation and trust in God; there is always a bigger plan.”