MILWAUKEE (AP) — COVID-19 patients are filling Wisconsin hospitals, forcing doctors to transfer patients to other facilities and build waiting lists as the disease surges across the state.

State health officials have been warning that COVID-19 patients could overwhelm hospitals since the pandemic began in March. Now it appears that fear has become reality.

The number of people hospitalized in Wisconsin stood at 646 on Tuesday, a new record, with 205 patients in intensive care units, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. Case spikes in northern and northeastern Wisconsin are driving much of the hospitalizations, the newspaper reported.

Officials at ThedaCare in the Fox Valley said they've exceeded capacity in the COVID-19 unit at their Appleton medical center and have started sending patients to Neenah and hospitals in Berlin, Shawano and Waupaca.

"If it's growing the way that it has for the past week or so, we're going to be in a dire situation in two, three, four weeks," said Michael Hooker, vice president and chief medical officer for acute care at ThedaCare. "Yes, we saw this coming, but didn't expect it to be quite so rapid."

Matthew Heywood, president and CEO of Aspirus HealthCare in Wausau, said that hospital has started putting patients on waiting lists, with wait times ranging from several hours to a full day. The system had 61 patients Tuesday who have or are suspected to have COVID-19, up 30% from Monday when the system was dealing with 47 such cases.

"The problem is how do we care for you when you have an accident when we have an overflow of COVID patients," Heywood said. "There's only so much you can do before you start to overwhelm the system."

Officials at Bellin Hospital in Green Bay said their facility was at 94% capacity on Tuesday, with 31 patients being treated for COVID-19, up from 26 on Friday. CEO Chris Woleske said the hospital hopes to convert part of its campus into another space for beds and is teaching nonclinical workers, such as athletic trainers, how to deliver supplies and move patients so nurses can focus on duties only they can perform.

State Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm and Dr. Ryan Westergaard, Wisconsin's chief medical officer, said Tuesday they hadn't received any reports of patients being turned away from hospitals or not getting care. They said if cases don't subside patients could be directed to a 530-bed field hospital the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built on the state fairgrounds in West Allis in April.

(Copyright © 2020 APG Media)

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