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State health industry leaders discuss impact of coronavirus

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) – Health industry leaders believe the coronavirus – or COVID-19 – outbreak will test the state’s medical systems, which already face challenges as the population of people over the age of 65 continues to grow.

“Really, it’s just going to magnify shortages that we already know are there,” said Ann Zenk, the Vice President of Workforce and Clinical Practice at the Wisconsin Hospital Association. “Shortages in the workforce, maybe even shortages in the supplies.”

Zenk and others participated at a roundtable discussion on how the state’s aging population is straining the health care industry’s workforce. The event was put on by Wisconsin Health News.

But despite those concerns, there is confidence that the state is prepared for the spread of the outbreak.

“This isn’t our first rodeo,” Zenk added. “We’re ready.”

On Tuesday, March 10, the Department of Health Services confirmed a third case of coronavirus in the state. The most recent case is in Dane County and that person is in isolation. A case in Pierce County was confirmed Monday. A Dane County person who was confirmed to have the virus in February has since recovered and released from isolation.

Industry leaders said many of the state’s health systems already have protocols in place to handle things like pandemic flu and those procedures are constantly updated and practiced.

“COVID-19 teams are meeting but they’re using what they already have in place for emergency and disaster planning and they’re making them fit as best they can for COVID-19,” Zenk said.

Even with strong preparedness, there are concerns about how the state is prepared, particularly with vulnerable populations in places like nursing homes.

“Our members are definitely very concerned but they’re making sure we’re fully prepped for this situation,” said Michael Pochowski, the CEO of the Wisconsin Assisted Living Association.

During the panel discussion, Pochowski said that the biggest concern he is hearing from assisted living facilities is access to personal protective equipment. But, overall, he told CBS 58 that the communication between the state and those facilities has been strong.

“[We’re] working very closely with the Department of Health Services who’s provided lots of guidance and materials for our members to make sure they are best prepared if there’s an outbreak at their facility.”

Some of the panelists agree that there are long-term reforms needed in the industry to address the so-called ‘silver tsunami’ of aging adults in the state, but that those reforms can help prepare the state to handle outbreaks like COVID-19.

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