MarshfieldClinicICU

Nurse Deanna North, supervisor of ICU nurses at Marshfield Medical Center-Eau Claire, puts on a personal respirator Tuesday afternoon before caring for a COVID-19 patient. Chippewa Valley health systems warned Tuesday that they were out of beds because of the recent influx of COVID-19 patients.

EAU CLAIRE — As a result of the recent surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations, Mayo Clinic Health System announced Tuesday that all of its beds are full in northwest Wisconsin.

That means that as of Tuesday afternoon, the regional health system had no intensive care or medical surgical beds available at its hospitals in Eau Claire, Menomonie, Barron, Bloomer and Osseo.

“The public urgently needs to treat COVID-19 as the health emergency it is to prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed. We are pleading for everyone’s help to wear a mask and follow all public health guidelines to limit the spread of this disease. ... This is a critically important message our community desperately needs to hear,” according to a joint statement by Regional Vice President Dr. Richard Helmers, Regional Chair of Administration Jason Craig and Chief Nursing Officer Pam White.

With all 36 medical-surgical beds at Marshfield Medical Center-Eau Claire also full as of Tuesday afternoon — 14 of them occupied by COVID-19 patients — Chief Administrative Officer Bill Priest said there should be no doubt the national health crisis “is in our own backyard right now.”

To accommodate patients needing care, Marshfield Clinic Health System is prepared to transfer some patients to its other facilities that have more breathing room.

“Patients are admitted and discharged every day, so it’s a dynamic situation,” Priest said. “While we certainly need to treat the COVID patients, we also have other medical patients we need to treat, so that’s our balancing act right now.”

Dr. Bill Melms, chief medical officer for Marshfield Clinic Health System, characterized the situation as severe and said system officials are very concerned about how the pandemic might progress. He noted that the Marshfield system had a total of nine COVID-19 inpatients two months ago when Wisconsin was averaging about 700 positive tests a day.

On Tuesday afternoon, Marshfield’s nine hospitals had 137 COVID-19 inpatients, and the state Department of Health Services reported a record 7,075 new coronavirus cases. More than 2,000 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized statewide, the agency indicated.

“We’re holding our own right now, but the problem is that the trajectory we’re on is unsustainable,” Melms said. “We will not see the light at the end of the tunnel until we see the number of positive cases drop.”

The best way to alter the dire prognosis, Priest added, is for the public to heed the calls by public health officials to wear masks, avoid gatherings, stay home as much as possible and practice social distancing and good hand hygiene.

Officials from HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire and HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chippewa Falls issued a statement Tuesday saying they were experiencing an increase in COVID-19-related hospitalizations consistent with other regional health care systems.

“Our hospitals are near capacity,” the statement said. “However, in anticipation of continued increases in COVID-19 cases, it is important the community is aware plans are in place at each hospital to ensure the needs of all our patients continue to be met through this pandemic.”

HSHS officials echoed the calls for the public to heed the guidance of public health agencies, saying such practices can make a big difference in the health of local communities.

“Now is not the time for any of us to become complacent,” the HSHS statement said.

Mayo Clinic Health System reported that 83 COVID-positive patients were hospitalized in its northwest Wisconsin facilities as of Tuesday afternoon, up from 73 at midnight.

“This is how rapidly we are seeing these cases increase,” Dr. Amy Williams, executive dean of the Mayo Clinic Practice in Rochester, Minnesota, said Tuesday in a briefing with reporters.

Wisconsin has been hit the hardest among the Upper Midwest states served by Mayo, Williams said, pointing to the state’s recent positive test rate rising exponentially in the past few weeks and now exceeding 30%.

“It used to be we’d get nervous if we had a 5% positivity rate,” she said, calling Wisconsin’s latest level “absolutely amazing.”

COVID-19 patients occupy about 50% of the the ICU capacity and 40% of the medical surgical beds at Mayo’s northwest Wisconsin hospitals.

The strain on resources is exacerbated by the reality that COVID-19 patients routinely have hospital stays two to three times longer than non-COVID patients, according to the Mayo statement.

Still, just because hospital beds are full doesn’t mean patients should avoid seeking emergency care when needed, Helmers said.

“Our bed situation is fluid,” Helmers said. “Our Emergency Department is open, and we treat the emergent needs and consider transfer to Rochester or another facility if we do not have an available bed.”

While the Mayo system is temporarily deferring elective procedures to free up beds for COVID-19 patients, the area facilities continue to care for patients needing trauma, emergency and urgent care.

“We need your help and we need it now,” Mayo system officials said in the statement.

COVID-19 testing operations at the Mayo system’s regional operations are generating greater than 1,000 positive tests per week.

The high community spread rate of the coronavirus also affects staff at regional medical facilities, as some have tested positive, some are caring for someone who has tested positive and some are isolating because of a possible exposure.

“It’s a team sport,” Priest said. “The more it affects the community, the more if affects our staff because they’re part of the community.”

Mayo Clinic Health System reported Tuesday that it had about 300 staff members on work restrictions due to COVID-19 exposures. Melms said hundreds of employees are affected at Marshfield Clinic Health System as well.

“The most critical worry we have right now as far as our ability to care for patients is staffing,” Williams said, noting that Mayo Clinic is moving staff around as needed.

Hospitals can create new ICU beds, Melms said, but they can’t create the ICU nurses capable of staffing those spaces.

The Marshfield system had some nurses volunteer to work in New York last spring when cases there were at a crisis point, but it isn’t able to receive the same treatment now because cases are surging across the country, Melms said.

In a Tuesday evening speech, Gov. Tony Evers reiterated the calls for Wisconsinites to take the recommended actions to slow the spread of the virus, saying that the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates 2,500 more people could die from COVID-19 in Wisconsin by Jan. 1 if no further actions are taken. State Department of Health Services statistics show that the virus has killed 2,395 people so far this year, including 35 in Eau Claire County and 31 in Chippewa County.

Melms said health officials know there is less than perfect compliance when residents with an exposure are ordered to quarantine or asked to wear masks.

“It’s heartbreaking,” he said. “It’s become a political issue, and unfortunately public health should not be a political issue.”