Evers: Alternative care facility an 'option,' prioritizing 100 FEMA workers for overwhelmed hospitals

Evers: Alternative care facility an ’option,’ prioritizing 100 FEMA workers for overwhelmed hospitals

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Plans to build an alternative care facility in Wisconsin to help overwhelmed hospitals battling COVID-19 are being considered, but Governor Tony Evers said for now he's focused on getting federal health care workers to provide relief.

"An emergency hospital is an option for us, but we believe the first step is getting people in these hospitals that are overrun and have a shortage of people," Evers said during a press briefing on Thursday, Dec. 16.

Gov. Evers said he recently spoke to federal officials about his request to send 100 FEMA workers to Wisconsin hospitals that are struggling to combat a another COVID-19 surge.

Those plans should be worked out in a few days, Evers said. How federal workers will be deployed is also unknown, but Evers noted the Fox Valley and Western Wisconsin likely need help the most.  

Last week, state health officials warned hospitals are entering a crisis as COVID-19 infections rise and health care facilities experience staffing shortages.

It's resulted in some health care facilities turning patients away, or in other circumstances some waiting hours in the emergency room before they are seen by a doctor.

Wisconsin Health News recently hosted a roundtable discussion with hospital leaders across the state, and some panelists expressed their ICU beds are near or at capacity.

"We are full. Period," said Eric Conley, CEO of Milwaukee's Froedtert Hospital.

The state is also close to reaching a new record for the number of people hospitalized for COVID-19, nearing levels not seen since December of 2020, according to DHS data.

As of Thursday, 60.4% of hospitals are at peak capacity.

Health Care Workers Exhausted

UW Health in Madison is one of several health care facilities buckling under the weight of a rise in COVID-19 infections.

Frontline workers at UW Health said they are struggling with the emotional strain of caring for COVID-19 patients, most of them unvaccinated, filling up their hospital beds.

"It's still really bad and the COVID patients are so difficult to take care of [because] they don't get better," said Jon Ketzler, critical care physician at UW Health. 

"I just don't feel the gratification…we're not saving people."

Currently Ketzler is treating seven COVID-19 patients, four of them are under 40 years-old.

Danielle Zitlow, a nurse at UW Hospital, said she's beyond exhausted and never imagined how difficult her job would become.

"It's very tiring and exhausting in a lot of ways," Zitlow said. "You know people who are meant to be nurses, but it's harder every day, you question it sometimes because of how hard it can be."

Ketzler and Zitlow stressed the importance of vaccines, noting they've seen firsthand how few unvaccinated patients leave their hospital without any lingering health issues.

"When they hit the ICU, they deteriorate so quickly and then it's months before they leave, and when they do they are horribly debilitated," said Ketzler.

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