As COVID hospitalizations in Dane Co reach record high, UW Hospital opens second critical care area for COVID patients

NOTE: This is part one of a three part series highlighting COVID-19 units at UW Hospital. Part two will air Friday, with part three airing Sunday night. 

MADISON, WIS. – As COVID-19 cases continue to mount in Wisconsin and hospitalizations reach record highs in Dane County, UW Hospital is expanding space for critical care.

“Our numbers in Wisconsin are really pretty out of control,” said Dr. Jeff Pothof, Chief Quality Officer at UW-Health. “We have a significant number of COVID patients here at UW Hospital.”

Last week, the hospital expanded critical care for COVID-19 patients experiencing life threatening symptoms. The space, intended to be another Intensive Care Unit, effectively doubles the beds available for critical care patients.

“Looking at this unit paints a picture of just how unusual this is,” he said. “This spring, when we did plan about what to do if things do get crazy in Wisconsin and we have more people with COVID than we knew what to do with, what would we do? And this was in that plan.”

Pothof says UW Health has plans to expand space available for critical COVID cases again, should it be necessary. While he says it’s not ideal and possibly a last resort, he says the Hospital could end up having to use pre-operating rooms or even operating rooms to house COVID-19 patients.

“If we continue to see record number of cases, if we continue to see increased hospitalizations, that just adds the weight to the dam that we’re trying to hold back to manage this,” he said.

While he says he’s trying to remain objectively positive, the COVID-19 numbers in Wisconsin continue to trend in the wrong direction as America heads into the very first winter in a Coronavirus reality.

“We don’t have anything that tells us that things are about to get better, that we’re just about out of this,” he said. “If anything, it looks like our curve will continue to move on a fast upward trajectory.”

“We can’t really fall back on this idea that since there’s more testing, we have more cases, and then that’s the end of the story,” Pothof said. “It doesn’t explain the hospitalizations. It doesn’t explain the deaths.”

Pothof says that as hospitalizations continue to rise and more is demanded of healthcare workers, the quality of care will ultimately suffer.

“The more that is asked of our health systems, the less good we’re going to get at it and the more patients are going to have bad outcomes,” he said. “To think that in a country like the United States that we may have to start providing a less than stellar standard of care, or we’ll have to start rationing medical care, in this country, seems absolutely unfathomable.”

Still, Pothof says he’s proud of the frontline workers at UW Health, saying they’ve continued to find ways to make the situation work while providing quality care. He says while those healthcare workers have asked the public to wear masks and social distance a number of times, ultimately it could come down to caring about other people.

“We need to start caring about other people just a little bit more than what we have been,” he said. “Our neighbors that we know, our neighbors that we don’t know. We need to start thinking about what they might need to stay safe and putting their needs a little bit in front of our needs. I think if we can do that broad scale, we might start to make a little bit of a difference.”