NewsLocal News


Local health systems strained by recent spike in hospitalizations

hospital mental health
Posted at 7:50 AM, Dec 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-07 10:26:17-05

GREEN BAY (NBC 26) — As local health systems continue to see a growing number of COVID-19 cases and longer hospital stays, it’s becoming more difficult for hospitals to accept new patients. Referral hospitals that frequently accept transfer patients from other facilities are struggling to make room as hospitalizations have spiked in recent months.

“We’re getting calls from sometimes two or three hundred miles away, people call us from out-of-state for people looking for hospitals to refer patients to that need a higher level of care,” said Ken Nelson, the chief nursing executive for HSHS hospitals.

The UW Health University Hospital in Madison has also begun receiving more transfer calls, even receiving calls from neighboring states like Minnesota and Iowa.

“As that referral hospital for the sickest patients in the state it’s more challenging to be able to tell folks who call us immediately 'yes' when we take in a transfer,” said Dr. Jeff Pothof, the UW Health chief quality officer. "We don’t have a bed and we’re not sure that one is going to open up in the next day or two days. That puts these referring hospitals in a bit of a lurch because when they call other hospitals they’re getting the same story.”

Pothof says that many hospitalizations can be attributed to non-COVID patients such as patients who deferred care for other conditions earlier on in the pandemic. That spike in hospitalizations paired with a recent rise in COVID cases has made it impossible on some days to admit new patients.

“Our total in-patient COVID volume is much greater than it was in September or even October,” Pothof said.

Meanwhile, staffing shortages have made it even more difficult to care for the growing number patients. Health systems like Bellin and Thedacare have begun cross-training staff to help support patient care.

“They’ve cross trained to multiple areas, even our leadership team is taking time to learn new skills so that we can help out," said Bellin's Chief Nursing Officer Laura Hieb.

"We have a lot of folks that are non-patient facing but still support patient care, so marketing, human resources, finance," said Thedacare Senior Vice President Lynn Detterman. "They're all coming together and giving their time to us each week or every other week to support patient care. They may sit with patients, they may change linens, they may clean rooms.”

As health officials continue to monitor their number of beds every day and sometimes every hour, they urge community members to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Those who are unvaccinated make up a large percentage of hospitalizations. For example, around 80% of Thedacare's COVID patients are unvaccinated.

Of the health systems' COVID patients, those with underlying conditions and those who are unvaccinated tend to have the longest stays, which puts an even greater strain on hospitals that are already reaching capacity.

“Unfortunately those who are unvaccinated, they’re going to keep re-living variants that come and potentially threaten their health and well-being," Pothof said. "That’s one of the reasons that we really are trying to encourage folks to try and get vaccinated so this can go away and they can stop worrying about whether they’re going to be that person in our ICU fighting for their life.”