Wisconsin hospitals near or at capacity as COVID-19 cases climb, patient care affected

Wisconsin Hospitals At Or Near Capacity As Covid 19 Cases Climb

MADISON, Wis. — Officials from both SSM Health and UW health said their hospitals are either near or at capacity and while admissions usually increase this time of year, COVID-19 related hospitalizations are putting a bigger strain on the system.

Wednesday Wisconsin set a new record for single day cases in 2021 and statewide COVID-19 related hospitalizations are on the rise as 97 percent of ICU beds are in use.

Chief Quality Officer at UW Health Jeff Potthof said the increase in hospitalizations has affected the level of care they can provide patients as they run out of space to treat them. 

“We do have patients who if they come to the emergency department sometimes can wait the better part of a day or half a day for admission because we’re waiting for beds to open up,” he explained.

RELATED: More Wisconsinites on ventilators now than at any other point of COVID pandemic

All 7 of SSM Health’s hospitals statewide are also at or near capacity and staff are seeing COVID-19 hospitalization numbers similar to those recorded last year. 

Madison’s SSM Hospital President Kyle Nondorf said the situation is very concerning and though the numbers haven’t surpassed 2020 totals they are trending upwards. 

According to Nondorf many of  SSM’s COVID-19 patients come from outlying communities where vaccination rates are lower.

“We are seeing sicker patients now, we are seeing patients that are younger that are unvaccinated from a COVID-19 hospitalization standpoint and we’re also seeing patients staying in the hospital a longer period of time,” he said.

Less available beds means patients needing potentially life saving treatments could find themselves on a waitlist.

Julia Quella said doctors in Reedsburg told her husband is in need of a surgery that would require a transfer to another hospital and though his condition is considered high priority no beds were available.

“I’m frustrated that they waited this long for something that is a life saving situation,” Quella said. “Open up a room if you don’t have a room.”

She also said Reedsburg hospital staff have made calls to 37 hospitals but they all didn’t have capacity, at best her husband could be put on a waitlist.

Pothof said their bed availability is always changing and sometimes they aren’t able to immediately accommodate regional requests from other hospitals.

“Ultimately hospitals can only expand so much and every time they expand there’s usually a decrease in the quality of the care that you can deliver because you’re asking people to do more work with less,” he said.

He went on to explain that while increased wait times are risky, moving patients into spaces that are less equipped to handle their care are also risky.

“If you need an ICU you’re best off in an ICU,” he said. “You’re not best off in a room that was made into a makeshift ICU.”

The capacity limitations however are not just linked to physical space but staffing issues as well and not just at hospitals but after care facilities as well.

“When you’re unable to discharge to those settings patients sit in the hospital and that’s really a lot of what we’re seeing which we can directly attribute to the longer lengths of stay,” said Nondorf.

Should COVID-19 related hospitalizations continue to trend upwards, hospital staff said they may need to revisit some of the measures taken in 2020 to manage the uptake.

The state is currently working with hospitals and nursing homes to provide staffing support.

Health officials across the state are also once again urging people to get vaccinated and follow COVID-19 related best practices.