Local hospitals are nearing capacity as COVID-19 cases continue to rise due to the more-contagious and more-severe Delta variant.
Agnesian Healthcare, which operates Ripon Medical Center (RMC), and ThedaCare both report experiencing high levels of hospitalizations. Increased COVID-19 hospitalizations could make it harder for non-COVID-19 patients to get treatment, according to healthcare officials.
“We are facing a serious surge in COVID-19 in the coming days and weeks, and we need our communities’ help to change course and get infections under control,” Dr. Imran A. Andrabi, ThedaCare president and CEO, said in a press release. “... We are asking our friends and neighbors to rally again, get vaccinated, take COVID-safe precautions and support each other.”
Hospital capacity became an issue last year as well. In October 2020, ThedaCare announced local hospitals were nearing capacity due to an increase in COVID-19 cases. So too did Agnesian.
Many of those cases were among adults over age 65. One year later, however, the situation is different this year as more young people and unvaccinated adults are ending up in the hospital, Andrabi said.
Likewise, Agnesian is seeing more children in the emergency department with COVID-19 or requesting a COVID-19 test than last year, according to DeAnn Thurmer, president of Ripon Medical Center/Waupun Memorial Hospital.
“We definitely are seeing more positive children than we did with the first wave,” she said. “The Delta variant is much more virulent and unfortunately children under 12 are not approved for vaccination at this time and are a vulnerable group.”
Thurmer did not provide the exact percentage of hospital beds or intensive care unit (ICU) beds in-use at Ripon Medical Center, but said Agnesian is experiencing similar capacity levels as the rest of the hospitals in the region.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS), as of Monday, 92.2% of beds in the Fox Valley region were in use and 88.9% of ICU beds are in use; 93.2% of beds in the Southeast region were in use, along with 95.1% of ICU beds.
Thurmer said RMC has capacity to care for COVID-19 patients locally with nurses, providers and staff trained on current protocols for safely treating the virus.
“If a patient’s condition worsens to needing ongoing ventilator support for multiple days, we would look to transfer the patient to another facility when a higher level of care is needed,” she said. “The difficulty is finding a facility that is accepting patients — as all hospitals are experiencing very high census levels.”
When patients with COVID-19 are admitted to the hospital, it is a long hospitalization, Thurmer noted.
She said COVID-19 patients may require a medication that is a five-day course and take a long time to recover and spend a week in the hospital or more.
“These are hospital beds that cannot be used for other services,” she said.
If hospitals are pushed to full capacity, or even beyond capacity, Thurmer said considerations will be given to reassigning staff, delaying elective procedures, putting beds closer together and using regular beds for emergency use.
“Wait times will be longer for services,” she added. “If we need to reduce our services due to additional surges, we will communicate service changes to the public.”
According to DHS, 11.5 fully vaccinated people out of 100,000 are getting hospitalized, while 98.5 not fully vaccinated people per 100,000 are getting hospitalized.
Similarly, most of the patients hospitalized with COVID-19 at Agnesian facilities are generally not vaccinated, Thurmer noted.
“These hospitalized patients are patients that don’t always have co-morbidities and are young — in their 30s, 40s, 50s,” she said.
The community can help. Thurmer said “vaccination is the single best way for community members to protect themselves and their loved ones from COVID-19 infection.”
She noted the vaccines available are safe, highly effective and free. At the same time, masking remains an “important component to reducing the spread of illness,” Thurmer said.
In fact, the CDC is recommending that everyone wear a mask in indoor public settings in areas of substantial and high transmission, regardless of vaccination status.
“The geographic areas that Ripon Medical Center and Agnesian Healthcare serve are all currently in high transmission,” Thurmer said. “The difference with vaccinated vs. unvaccinated public members is that we are finding a lower rate of positivity with the vaccinated and when they do get sick, the illness is less severe and usually doesn’t result in hospitalization or death.”
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