9 out 10 Wisconsin ICU beds are in use; doctors concerned as hospitalizations increase 'significantly'

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MILWAUKEE, Wis. (CBS 58) -- More than 90 percent of Wisconsin's ICU beds are currently in use. That statistic is raising concerns for doctors and nurses across the state, as they caution not stopping the spread of COVID-19 means things could get worse.

Doctors told CBS 58 Wisconsin is not as bad off as some other states, particularly those in the south, and people in the Milwaukee area are lucky to have several hospital systems. However, hospitals are having to plan for what they'll do if the state continues to see spikes.

"Anytime we see high utilization of ICU beds, we get worried," said Dr. Jeff Pothof, chief quality officer for UW Health. "ICU beds aren't just there to take care of those individuals who are suffering from severe COVID. We also use ICU beds to take care of the most vulnerable people in our society."

Data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services shows 87.8 percent of hospital beds and 91.8 percent of ICU beds are in use.

"Having nine out of 10 ICU beds already occupied should give people pause and make them think about what we're doing," Pothof said.

Gina Dennik-Champion, executive director of the Wisconsin Nurses Association, called the current situation a "double whammy."

"We have our COVID patients, and then we have those patients that have not gone back and seen their health care provider, and they are very, very sick," she explained. "There is certainly a lot of stress on the nursing staff at this point."

Dr. Ben Weston, chief health policy advisor for Milwaukee County, said local hospitals have plans in place for potential surges. However, he's concerned, as hospitalizations have increased tenfold in the last six weeks. He called it a "significant increase."

"We're now at 229 people in our hospitals in Milwaukee County. That's our highest number since mid-January," Weston said. "We haven't seen these sort of case numbers, these sort of hospitalizations numbers before at a time when vaccine was widely available."

Doctors continue to say the best way to keep things from getting worse: Get vaccinated. Wear a mask inside. 

Also, Dennik-Champion said to help keep ICU beds from filling up, people should not wait to see their doctors if they are in need of medical care.

"If you've got a chronic condition, if you're not getting it checked out and at least monitored, the chances are that you're going to get really sick," she said.

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