Amid patient challenges and calls for more locations, DHS says it is sticking with just one alternate care facility for now

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) – While hospitals across the state are being pushed to their limits with space and staff, the Department of Health Services said it is maintaining its position of not building another alternate care facility and focusing on maximizing the State Fair Park location.

DHS officials said this week the efforts now should be on trying to slow the spread of coronavirus to prevent the need for another facility or even the need for the full potential of the ACF in West Allis.

“We hold in our hands the ability to prevent the need for more than 500 beds at an alternate care facility,” DHS Secretary-designee Andrea Palm said in a media briefing Tuesday, Nov. 24.

On Wednesday, Nov. 25, DHS reported the ACF at State Fair Park treating seven patients, though it has treated dozens more since it began operation in October.

Palm’s comments come after the Wisconsin Hospital Association sent a letter on Nov. 19 to Governor Tony Evers and legislative leaders calling on them to work together to act on solutions to help hospitals. WHA suggested establishing more ACFs around the state to alleviate their strain and allow for more patients to be more comfortable going to a location closer to their community.

“The most significant limitation on greater utilization of the West Allis ACF is the reluctance of patients to be transferred to a facility that for many is too far away from their home,” WHA President and CEO Eric Borgerding wrote.

Palm said Tuesday DHS is addressing those concerns.

“We are working hard with hospitals across the state in order to deal with transport issues and other needs of our local hospital partners,” Palm said.

Officials at UW Health said the State Fair Park Facility is also limited in the kind of patients in can treat.

“The resources at the alternate care facility are for a very specific low acuity patient population and there’s the geography piece as well,” Aimee Becker, UW Health’s Chief Medical Officer, said in an interview. “It adds up to be a challenge to get high volumes of patients there.”

Becker noted it’s understandable why an additional ACF may not be the best solution. Mainly, that facility would also need staff, a resource that is stretched thin in hospitals across the state.

“Trying to expand care and capacity right now having the right staff to do that work is a huge factor for sure,” Becker said.

DHS said Tuesday the state is working with a staffing contractor to help address the shortages across the state. On top of that, both Gov. Evers and Republicans said licensing flexibilities to help address the shortage may be something that is addressed in a potential COVID-19 relief bill in the coming weeks.

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