How is your hometown hospital handling the pandemic?

We checked in with rural hospitals to find out.

DODGEVILLE, Wis. — As Wisconsin deals with recording-breaking COVID case numbers and a leap in hospitalizations, News 3 Now wanted to see how your hometown hospital is handling the changes.

Clinics in southwest Wisconsin are seeing the same uptick in hospitalizations that roughly two-thirds of the state are experiencing. With less resources, space and staff, though, the statewide numbers are more than troubling for rural hospitals.

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Data from the Department of Health Services shows south central Wisconsin has seen a 42 percent jump in hospitalizations over the last two weeks, but those numbers include bigger counties, like Dane and Rock.

 

Tracking those numbers at rural hospitals, like those in the three most southwestern counties, is harder, because patients are often transferred to bigger hospitals. Still, public health officials in Grant, Lafayette and Iowa Counties all confirm a definite uptick.

“We are admitting an increased number of COVID-positive patients, as well as seeing them in our emergency department,” said Lynn Hebgen, vice president of nursing at Upland Hills in Dodgeville. It’s the lone hospital in Iowa County, but Hebgen says they are far from overwhelmed. The hospital has nine COVID-designated beds, three of which are for intensive care patients. At most, Upland Hills has filled four.

“This is something we have to monitor closely every day and throughout the day, because it changes,” Hebgen said. “You might start the day with only one bed filled, but then you discharge three, so now you’ve got four beds open.”

Farther west Grant County is harder hit when it comes to COVID case counts as reported by the DHS. Grant Regional Health Center in Lancaster has six negative pressure rooms for COVID patients, two of which were occupied as of Wednesday. The health center says as statewide numbers ticked up, management decided to reinstate its Incident Command team to prevent COVID from overtaking its beds and the employees staffing them.

“We’re a small organization,” Dave Smith, CEO and president of Grant Regional Health, said. “You take 2-3 staff out of a department, we’re in staff crisis mode and have to figure that out… [but] we have a comprehensive plan within the organization of where we should shift people if necessary.”

Both these hospitals utilize a statewide system that updates available hospital beds on a daily basis, so patients can be transferred if any system is overwhelmed. In fact, Upland Hills offered to do just that for a clinic in the Fox Valley when its beds were full.

Another important piece of this conversation is personal protective equipment, or PPE. Upland Hills Health in Dodgeville showed us their stock of 16,000 N95 masks on-site and reiterated their staff is in good shape and well protected. Grant Regional is also fully stocked, mentioning that most hospitals use a “burn calculator” to keep an eye on weekly use and whether it’s on the rise.

“I think we feel now we’re OK,” Smith of Grant Regional said. “That doesn’t mean in two weeks when we get more patients we won’t be reaching out to other trying to find more.”

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In the early months of the pandemic, supply chains for PPE were erratic, and there’s always concern that uncertainty could return, so both hospitals say they do their best to conserve their gear. Data by the Wisconsin Hospital Association shows of the 143 hospitals tracked, three are lacking a 7-day supply of PPE.

There is a contingency plan in place, though. Emergency management departments across the state keep an eye on the 14-day supply of PPE in their county and make sure hospitals have enough. If any clinic gets low, their local emergency management team would step in to help keep them supplied.

There’s one overarching message from both these hospitals to their hometown residents – don’t put off care. These are safe spaces staffed with people who are prepared to take care of you.

“I think it’s important the community knows we are prepared. We are capable,” Hebgen of Upland Hills said.