Aspirus CEO: Care might change to avoid filling beds

Stephen Phillipson, Aspirus Wausau Hospital’s director of medicine, talks during a press conference Wednesday on COVID-19 numbers in the Aspirus system. (Photo provided by Aspirus)

WAUSAU, Wis. — With COVID-19 cases expected to rise through the holiday season, Aspirus hospitals may reschedule some non-time-sensitive procedures and move less serious cases to a home care model, Aspirus CEO Matt Heywood said during a press conference Wednesday.

Typically, Aspirus staffs for about 300 to 350 beds, Heywood said. During this crisis, it has added capacity for 150 more. But even that might not be enough, he said.

Aspirus has about 130 COVID patients across the Upper Peninsula and Wisconsin, up from around 30 during the summer, Heywood said. Over the next month, that could rise to about 250 patients — close to half of Aspirus’s total bedspace.

Unlike the summer, where staff and other resources could be shipped to isolated hotspots in places such as Arizona, all parts of the country are seeing a jump in cases, Heywood said.

“We’ve worked hard to make sure we have processes, staff, PPE and that we’re prepared,” he said. “But you can’t build more beds. And even if you could, you need staff, and staff is in limited supply throughout the country.”

Aspirus is headquartered in Wausau, which is in the top eight for COVID cases on a per-capita rate throughout the country, Heywood said. System-wide, about 300 workers are at home, being either suspected or confirmed for COVID.

Aspirus has brought in extra staff nurses and other contract workers where possible, Heywood said. Staff caring for COVID usually work 12-hour days — sometimes longer, depending on how many admissions there are that day, said Stephen Phillipson, Aspirus Wausau Hospital’s director of medicine.

“It’s very hard for my young physicians to lose five or six patients in 24 or 36 hours,” he said. “They’re not used to that. So it’s basically talking it through and getting up and doing it again the next day because we have a lot of people who do well and go home and you’ve got to focus on that aspect of it as well.”

Numbers have flattened recently after an exponential rise, Heywood said. But he is expecting to see cases climb again.

“I can tell from our transfers, we can’t take another pop as a state,” he said. “What that means is we’re going to have to have different ways of caring for patients.”

Heywood said time-sensitive procedures would still go on, though ones that can wait will be rescheduled.

Some patients who might be hospitalized under normal circumstances may be put under home care. Followup may come through nurses or through EMS and transport services, Heywood said. Loved ones might be asked to call the hospital and check up on a frequent basis.

“If we can send you home and your loved ones and our home health can follow up with you, we’re going to look at new and different ways to care for patients so we can keep our beds available for the sickest of the sick, the people who really need that high-level care and the equipment that we have, versus some people who might be able to go home with some additional support,” he said.

While older people may have the highest risk, Phillipson said he’s had patients in their 20s die from the virus.

“The people who primarily get sick, are older and do have comorbidities,” he said. “But they might have had a number of years of life left if they had not gotten COVID-19 … We’re seeing many people who should have had many years of life with their families to spend who will not because of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Heywood urged people to continue to wear masks, social distance and think about safe ways to celebrate the holidays. If people are to gather with extended family, Heywood said, they should quarantine for 14 days prior to the gathering.

This week, Michigan began reporting hospitalization and personal protective equipment for individual hospitals instead of just health systems, as it had done previously.

Aspirus Keweenaw Hospital had more than 30 days worth of N95 masks, surgical masks, gowns, exam gloves and eye protection as of Monday. It had two COVID-19 patients, both in the ICU. Bed occupancy was 26%.

Aspirus Ontonagon Hospital also had more than 30 days worth of N95 masks, surgical masks, gowns, exam gloves and eye protection. It had no COVID patients. Bed occupancy was at 30%.

Baraga County Memorial Hospital had more than 30 days worth of N95 masks, surgical masks, gowns, exam gloves and eye protection. It had two COVID-19 patients, neither of which were in the ICU. Bed occupancy was 40%.

UP Health System — Portage had more than 30 days worth of exam gloves, 15-30 days worth of surgical masks and seven to 14 days of N95 masks, gowns and eye protection. It had five COVID-19 patients, none in the ICU. Bed occupancy was 82%.

As of Wednesday, there were 309 inpatients in U.P. hospitals, which had 570 beds. 53 of 79 ICU beds in the Upper Peninsula were full, including 45 out of 58 adult ICU beds. Ninety-four people — 93 adults and one child — were hospitalized with COVID, with 84 of those cases confirmed positive. Twenty-four adults were in the ICU for COVID, all confirmed cases.

There were eight ventilators in use out of 122. One person was hospitalized and ventilated. There had been 66 COVID-related ER visits in the previous day.


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