MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin’s hospital beds are filling up with SARS CoV-2 patients, and some areas have just a few ICU beds left.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, 88% of hospital beds statewide are full. On top of that, 92% of intensive care unit beds are in use. Across Wisconsin, more than half of hospitals have their ICUs at full capacity.
"Over the last three to four weeks, we've seen those volumes, double, triple, quadruple, and now 10 to 20-fold from what they were just about five weeks ago,” said Dr. Michael Dolan of Gundersen Health System in La Crosse.
Data from the Wisconsin Hospital Association shows that the western Wisconsin region, which includes La Crosse, is swamped. The area only has 36 ICU beds. Right now, they only have three left.
“We had to reopen a COVID unit, a dedicated COVID unit that is full today,” Dolan said. “So now we have to analyze, 'Do we need to open our second COVID unit again?' Which then takes a lot of resources away from the non-COVID patients.”
Most of northern Wisconsin is in the same boat. The Fox Valley only has two ICU beds left. North central Wisconsin, two beds left. And in northwestern Wisconsin, it's same thing: just two beds.
Even if there are open beds, that doesn’t mean they can properly care for those patients.
“The patients are so sick in a COVID unit that you really can't have more than one or two patients for each nurse,” Dolan said. “In a normal unit, you might have four patients or five patients for one nurse … so you really start to eat up your nursing staff [in a COVID unit].”
Southern Wisconsin, with the bigger cities of Madison and Milwaukee, have more open ICU spaces. The Madison area had 21 beds available as of Thursday, while the Milwaukee area had 28.
However, that’s out of a much larger stock of beds: The Madison area has 266 beds, and the Milwaukee area has 549 ICU beds. Other parts of the state have a much lower number of beds in general. For instance, northwestern Wisconsin only has 72 beds.
Dr. Dolan doesn’t expect to have to move patients south. At least, not yet.
“I'm hoping that we won't even get close to that,” he said. “Because that is not a fun place to be.”
For now, he said staff are exhausted. They’re physically and emotionally drained.
“They see death and life struggles every single day. I fear the impact it's having on them long term,” he said. “It will take maybe years for them to recover from what they've seen over the last 15 months.”
Dolan said this surge in hospitalizations is almost entirely made up of people who aren’t vaccinated against SARS CoV-2. He hopes more people get that shot in the arm, because it could lighten the load in hospitals. But more than that, it will save lives, and save healthcare professionals from experiencing even more trauma.
He said it’s really weighing on them to watch people needlessly die.
“We've had multiple people die in the last three weeks that are not the typical demographic that we saw last year. They're younger; they're people in their 40s and 50s. That's a scary thing,” he said. “[They were] struck down by a disease that is mostly preventable by getting vaccinated.”