With more than 750 new cases of COVID-19 in Barron County in the seven days ending at 2 p.m. yesterday, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020, the capacity of area medical facilities are being taxed, sometimes to the limit, according to spokespersons for Mayo Clinic Health System-Northland, Eau Claire, and Marshfield Medical Center, Rice Lake.
Jason Craig, regional chair of administration, Mayo Clinic Health System, Northwest Wisconsin Region, and Christy Moravitz, communications and outreach coordinator for Marshfield Clinic Health System, responded to questions from the News-Shield on Tuesday afternoon.
News-Shield: Are the Mayo and Marshfield hospitals at or past capacity with respect to available treatment space?
Craig: Hospital capacity is fluid, with admissions and discharges happening by the hour. There are times during which all five Mayo Clinic Health System Hospitals in Northwest Wisconsin are full. We remain open for urgent, emergent and trauma care. Patients who require emergency care should not hesitate to seek it.
Moravitz: We have, at several times in recent weeks, operated at or near capacity. Currently, across the hospitals in Marshfield Clinic Health System, there are 160 COVID inpatients. Last Friday, Marshfield Medical Center-Rice Lake had the most COVID cases/patients in the entire system.
News-Shield: Is anyone being turned away and/or sent to other facilities?
Craig: At times, patients may need to be transferred to another hospital, either because they require a higher level of care or due to capacity. We are fortunate to be able to coordinate care with other Mayo Clinic hospitals.
Moravitz: While there are certainly challenges to resource availability (beds, staff, supplies etc.), (we) turn no one away. There are, as always -- even prior to COVID -- instances where a patient needs to be transferred to receive a higher critical care level. We work with locations in and outside our system until we are able to find a place for patients.
News-Shield: How many staff members are sick, and what challenges does that pose to operations?
Craig: We have as many as 300 staff across Northwest Wisconsin on work restrictions at any given time, due to exposure or infection with COVID-19. The vast majority happen in the community or at medium or large gatherings. This is an incredibly challenging and stressful time for our staff. Many of our staff are working extra shifts. They’re doing so because of their commitment to our patients. As they see patients struggling, that also takes an emotional toll. Mayo Clinic staff from Minnesota and Arizona have come to help, as we sent staff to Arizona when they were experiencing a surge.
Dr. Amy Williams, a Mayo executive dean for practice, said in an online media briefing Tuesday that staff with COVID-19 typically contract it outside of health facilities.
“We’re not seeing exposures from patients to staff,” she said. “We’re seeing it in the community.”
Moravitz: I don’t have an exact number of sick staff members.
The biggest challenge, and the most strained resource, is, definitely staffing. Staffers are members of the community, just like everyone else. And we are experiencing absences, due not only to staff illness (COVID and other seasonal illnesses), but also due to staffing impacted by closed daycares, child/spouse illness, quarantining … it’s a domino effect like everyone is experiencing everywhere.
“People are tired, stressed and spread thin, of course,” Nurse Manager Mary Freitag said. “But I’ve been humbled and amazed by the teamwork I’m seeing. People stepping up and sacrificing time with their own families to ensure patients are being taken care of.”
News-Shield: Other than “stay home,” what other advice would you have for our readers?
Craig: We are asking our communities to help us by following the public health guidelines. Wear a mask in public, practice social distancing, wash your hands frequently, avoid gatherings, stay home when you are sick, and get a flu shot.
As we approach the holiday season, we are also asking you to find creative ways to celebrate with family virtually, and only gather in person with members of your own household. We understand COVID fatigue is real, but this is not a time to let down your guard.
Moravitz: In addition to following public health guidelines – stay home, wear a mask, social distance, limit gatherings - utilize virtual services when you can, such as telehealth services, so you can continue to be seen by your provider without having to leave home and/or come into the hospital building.