‘A dramatic increase’: Hospitals adapt as COVID-19 hospitalizations top 100 in Madison

MADISON, Wis. – For the first time since the pandemic hit Wisconsin, Dane County has more than 100 COVID-19 patients in the hospital.

UnityPoint Health-Meriter Chief Medical Officer Pam Wetzel said it changes by the minute, but as of Friday afternoon, the hospital was treating nine COVID-19 patients in intensive care and 30 total. That’s up from their previous high of 18 in the spring.

“We’ve seen a dramatic increase,” Wetzel said. According to her latest numbers from SSM Health St. Mary’s and University Hospital, the three hospitals combined to have 104 COVID-19 patients.

Nearly a third of those patients are in intensive care. Five of the hospitalized patients are children, according to Dane County Executive Joe Parisi.

Hospital staff are doing all they can to keep up. At Meriter, Wetzel said that means converting rooms to properly care for COVID-19 patients, redeploying staff and bringing in additional physicians from clinics.

“They’re under tremendous pressure,” Parisi said.

He worries not only about limited hospital space, but sufficient staff if they get sick, as well.

“The hard truth is, it’s going to be a challenging few months, and right now, our healthcare workers are already bordering on being overwhelmed,” Parisi said.

It’s also a challenge for Wetzel to say what number of patients it would take to hit capacity.

“When I was asked that question a couple weeks ago, I said, ‘Well, I think we could go to around 20-some,’” she said. “Now I’m at the 30 mark needing to go up higher than that.”

UnityPoint Health-Meriter does have the option to transfer patients to Milwaukee’s field hospital if need be.

The Alliant Energy Center could potentially become a field hospital if Dane County hits that point, but Wetzel said hospitals will do everything in their power first to avoid that.

“We have the labs here. We have the X-rays here. We have the emergency department here,” Wetzel said. “I would give the staff at all three hospitals a lot of credit for being creative and trying to sort this out.”

She said everyone else needs to do their part, as well.

“It’s not just the doctors and nurses, it’s everybody,” Wetzel said. “It can’t just be words, it needs to translate into action.”

Parisi knows it’s the same message of handwashing, mask-wearing and staying home, but he stressed it’s more important than ever.

“It is going to be pretty intense the next few weeks, so we all need to stick together and do what we know we need to do to control the spread,” he said.