CBS 58 Investigates: Wisconsin hospital bed supply strained in pandemic plans

CBS 58 Investigates: Wisconsin hospital bed supply strained in pandemic plans

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) – First schools, then bars and restaurants, now malls. All the closures may seem dramatic, but they’re being done in order to slow the spread of coronavirus. Wisconsin pandemic plans published in 2007 used the 1918 Spanish Flu as a guide. They show the numbers of people needing to be hospitalized far outstrips the supply of beds.

State health officials have so far been unable to answer whether the supply of hospital beds and ventilators are adequate in this state.

“That’s the conversation we’re having right now,” said Department of Health Services Director Designee Andrea Palm.

Palm said the state is trying to get that figured out. But two reports from 2007 paint a bleak picture.

The Milwaukee Health Department Pandemic Flu Plan showed 32,724 people could die across Wisconsin.

170,599 people would need to be hospitalized.

Wisconsin’s Pandemic Operations Plan said there were only 12,922 staffed hospital beds in the state. The state plan said hospitals could add an additional 17,700 beds for a limited time, increasing the bed count to 30,622.

It also projected 40 percent of hospital employees could get sick.

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers said that’s why social distancing measures are necessary.

“We need our health care workers, our direct care workers, first responders, military to stay healthy,” said Evers.

The state plan also said ventilators would be in short supply.

The state projected at the peak of a flu pandemic 566 ventilators would be used by flu patients. That was 60 percent of the supply in Wisconsin at the time, meaning the state had 943 total when the report was published in 2007.

Palm couldn’t answer how many the state has currently.

“We’re working very closely with our health partners around the state to do that kind of inventory,” said Palm.

The American Hospital Directory’s current count of Wisconsin beds is lower than what the state planned for in 2007: 11,050.

The Harvard Global Health Institute released a model based on those numbers and infection rates. It showed Milwaukee would run out of beds if 20 percent of Milwaukee’s population were infected between six and 12 months.

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