Wisconsin doctors concerned about bed capacity amid delta variant and staffing issues

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) - Some doctors in Wisconsin are worried about bed capacity as COVID-19 numbers trend upwards.

More than 92% of ICU beds in Wisconsin are occupied as of Friday. Dr. Brad Burmeister, an ER physician at Bellin Health, anticipates that number to climb even higher.

"Over the last several weeks, we've  had a pretty incredible growth in people seeking medical care for COVID-19," Dr. Burmeister said. "We have a challenge in front of us."

With school back in session and the cooler weather on the way, he worries hospitals may reach a tipping point by fall.

"Most ERs across the state at this point will say every day is busy and the patients presenting will probably outweigh the resources immediately available," Dr. Burmeister said.

Dr. Jeff Pothof with UW Health said COVID patients make up 10 to 15% of those ICU beds. Still, this puts a strain on healthcare workers.

"Just because 5% of beds are available, doesn't mean there's a bed available during the entire day. That's an average of the census of those ICUs. It's not a great number. In a perfect world, we wouldn't run our ICU capacity much higher than 80-85% if you wanted to ensure anyone who needed an ICU bed could get it when they want it," Dr. Pothof said.

Most hospitals in Wisconsin are also struggling with staffing issues. Dr. Pothof said thankfully hospitals are not turning away patients, but has concerns that could change if the surge continues.

"We can get pretty creative with how to jury rig a space, unfortunately I cannot jury rig an ICU doctor or ICU nurse," he said. "I hope that we don't get to that place, that's just a really sad, sinking feeling."

Dr. Burmeister said most of the patients he is seeing in the ER just in the last week are in their 30s, most of them begging for the vaccine.

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