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Hospital systems feel pressure as COVID-19 cases rise

Hospital systems feel pressure as COVID-19 cases rise
Posted at 10:35 PM, Oct 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-15 23:35:42-04

GREEN BAY (NBC26) -- The Wisconsin Hospital Association reports more than 1,000 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 across the state, adding pressure to hospital systems.

"We're seeing the highest volume of COVID patients that we've seen since the pandemic started," said Dr. Tom Nichols, surge section chief of Ascension Wisconsin and president of medical affairs at Ascension St. Elizabeth.

Ascension Wisconsin has more than 160 COVID-19 positive patients at sites across the state. Of those, almost 30 are in the ICU.

"It is causing a strain on us," Nichols said. "Fortunately for us in the Fox Valley and Green Bay region we haven't had huge surges of patients until now. But now we're seeing it and we did prepare for it."

Nichols said they created more bed space, bringing in additional equipment and resources as coronavirus cases increased.

With 24 hospitals across Wisconsin, Nichols said they've been able to share resources between facilities. But as hospitals start seeing higher volumes simultaneously, he said that becomes more challenging. At that point Ascension Wisconsin would leverage national heathcare partners to help get them through the surge.

Nichols said the increase in community spread has also impacted hospital staff as community exposures have prevented some people to work for a period of time.

"Our healthcare staff is great, but they get tired too," Nichols said. "We need the community support to try to control the spread of the infection so we don't overwhelm our healthcare systems."

Bellin Health uses an incident command structure that defines capacity with four different levels: Normal, conventional, contingent and critical. Right now, they're operating under the third stage, which means hospitals are seeing higher capacity than usual.

"Our normal areas that we had designed for our COVID patients are now overflowing to other areas," said Laura Hieb, chief nursing officer and senior vice president of Bellin Health. "We currently are in the surge and we anticipate that we will continue to be in the surge."

Although challenging, Hieb said their teams are managing.

Bellin Health redeployed 138 staff members to help in various areas of the organization and brought temporary staff in to help.

With flu season approaching, Hieb said they ask people to follow virus prevention protocols.

"Following the science and the evidence is really critical at this point, and that goes with vaccinations as well as masking, distancing and proper hand hygiene," Hieb said.

According to the Wisconsin Hospital Association, ICU's in Northeast Wisconsin and the Fox Valley are at 90 and 88 percent capacity respectively.