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Wisconsin's Hospitals Are Overburdened As Pandemic Shows No Signs Of Slowing

Michelle Maternowski
A sign at Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee shows protocols for entering the medical facility.

Cases of COVID-19 are at a record high in Wisconsin. Over the past month, the state has become one of the nation’s leading hotspots for new infections, and the surge isn’t showing any signs of slowing.

As more and more people are being sickened, our hospitals are becoming overburdened with patients. And if infections don’t start to level off, hospitals could run out of resources — threatening the health and safety of Wisconsinites statewide.

"If you look at the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 or the number of new cases everyday, the trajectory of those curves is terrifying. They are almost vertical," says Dr. Mark Kaufman, chief medical officer at the Wisconsin Hospital Association. 

Hospitals around the state have been filling up with critically ill COVID-19 patients, on top of the patients there for other emergencies and health care needs.

An extended conversation with Dr. Mark Kaufman.

Even before the pandemic, Wisconsin was facing a shortage of health care workers, particularly in rural parts of the state. To deal with these shortages, Dr. Kaufman says many hospitals turned to contract workers from other states. But since the pandemic is surging throughout the country, this isn't a feasible option and the burden on health care workers in Wisconsin — both physically and emotionally — is only increasing. 

Dr. Kaufman explains, "I think the impact has been greatest likely for the nurses, who probably spend most of their time actually in the presence of patients. And what's happened is, as the pandemic has spread throughout every community in Wisconsin, those nurses and health care workers obviously live in those communities and they are at risk of both catching COVID-19, but also of being a close contact of somebody who's diagnosed with COVID-19."

"When that happens, the close contact needs to quarantine for 14 days. So if you're in a rural community and it's a relatively small pool of nurses... that takes a huge toll on your nursing workforce and their ability to work at the hospital and care for patients," he continues. 

Joy Powers hosts and produces Lake Effect. She joined WUWM January 2016 as a producer for Lake Effect.