Distance and level of care contributing to few COVID patients at state fairgrounds

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WEST ALLIS, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Currently 23 patients are getting care at the alternate care facility in State Fair Park. The facility can hold 530.

There are two reasons behind why there are so few patients while hospitals fill up -- its location and who it can treat.

"Health care systems categorically are stressed, everybody is doing everything they can to continue to provide safe patient care," said UW Health Chief Medical Officer Aimee Becker.

She said Wisconsin's health care systems are in a crisis. State data show six of our seven hospital regions are between 80 and 90 percent full. Yet, the alternate care facility is mostly empty.

"If you think about patients at their most vulnerable times, and I think COVID-19 falls into that, it's easy to understand how patients are reluctant to go far from home," said Becker.

The Wisconsin Hospital Association wants the state to build more alternate care facilities in other parts of the state to encourage more people to move out of rapidly filling hospitals. But Becker said actually staffing them would be difficult.

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

The facility at State Fair Park has expanded its hours, added equipment, and changed some of its admission criteria. But Becker said right now, the distance and level of care has limited transfers.

"When you put both of those together, it adds up to be a challenge to get high volumes of patients there," said Becker.

Becker said keeping people out of the hospital in the first place is a better strategy. It'll be up to the legislature and governor to decide if they should build more of these facilities to relieve overburdened hospitals.

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