GREEN BAY (NBC 26) — Facing a surge in COVID-19 cases in the region, Thedacare hospitals are nearing staffed-bed capacity to care for inpatient and COVID-19 patients. As of Tuesday morning, Thedacare only had two ICU beds remaining.
Due to the highly transmissible delta variant, ThedaCare President and CEO Dr. Imran Andrabi says hospitals are in worse shape than when they last saw a spike in hospitalizations last fall.
"We are dealing with a completely different virus than we were dealing with in 2020," Andrabi said. "It's much more infectious, it transmits much more quickly, it spreads a lot more quickly."
According to the Wisconsin Hospital Association, as of Tuesday afternoon only 8 ICU beds were immediately available in the northeast region of the state.
“A couple months ago we had 79 people in the hospital with COVID. Just two months later, yesterday we had 1,056," said Eric Borgerding, the WHA President and CEO.
Last year without vaccinations, he says the majority of people hospitalized with COVID-19 were aged 65 and older. This time around, he says younger people are accounting for the majority of hospitalizations, particularly those who are unvaccinated.
"There are younger and younger people now getting admitted to the hospitals. The majority of them are now under the age of 50 and in some cases under the age of 40," Andrabi said. "80 plus percent of people that are getting admitted in the hospitals and in the ICUs are now unvaccinated."
With back to school season, he also says Thedacare has seen a large increase in hospitalizations among children who are not yet eligible for the vaccine.
"There is almost a 200 percent increase in the number of cases in kids under the age of 12 since June and a 25 percent increase in hospitalizations in children in the same age group," Andrabi said.
Since those being hospitalized are now younger, Dr. Andrabi says there is a lower mortality rate but patients' hospital stays have become longer.
"That means they are still in the hospital, still needing a bed, still needing staff to take care of them for a long period of time that also then blocks the availability of the resources for everybody else," Andrabi said.
He says Thedacare has been coordinating with other Wisconsin healthcare systems in order to avoid having to transfer patients out of the region or state when their hospitals are unable to care for them.
"Anytime we get into a situation where we have to transfer a patient out, it's gut wrenching and it breaks our heart," Andrabi said. "When that situation does come up, there's a lot of conversations back and forth with other health systems in the state. There's a lot of begging and pleading because we also understand that everybody else is in a similar situation."
But it's not the lack of ICU beds that is straining hospitals, it's the lack of workers. Dr. Andrabi estimates Thedacare would need to hire about 200 more healthcare workers in order to provide relief to those working on the front lines.
"It is not the ventilators, it is not PPE, it is not testing, it is not the number of beds available, it's people," Andrabi said. "It's the combination of people that are just tired and some of them have just left healthcare totally."
Thedacare is calling on the community to do their part to stop the spread, urging people to follow local health department and CDC guidelines such as masking up, getting the COVID-19 vaccine when eligible, and getting a flu shot early.
"The thing to think about as a community is at what time do we want this pandemic to end?" Andrabi said. "What are we willing to do to put an end to this pandemic as best as we possibly can in our community?"