MILWAUKEE — Wisconsin hospitals are at a breaking point as the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations climbs, taking up significant resources under tight conditions and leading them to once again delay procedures.
While COVID vaccines are available, health leaders said on Tuesday that the majority of the COVID patients coming in are not immunized and are playing a significant role in the domino effect.
"We are full. Period," said Eric Conley, president of Froedtert Hospital.
During a round-table meeting among hospital leaders, Conley was one of four bluntly detailing their struggle to care for patients. According to Conley, 33 out of their 100+ ICU beds are made up of COVID-patients. Conley said roughly 88 percent of their COVID-positive cases are unvaccinated.
It is a reality hospital systems across the state face.
"Much like other facilities here it's really impacting impeding care for those patients who are not COVID that need the care getting in because getting to our beds is very hard," Conley said.
All of the leaders at the round-table meeting advocated for vaccinations to help people avoid the need for hospital care.
During a local briefing, Milwaukee County's chief health policy advisor Dr. Ben Weston noted that on Monday the county saw a new 2021 record for COVID hospitalizations.
"299 people. That's nearly 40 more people hospitalized with COVID just over the weekend. Statewide we're really struggling with hospital capacity with just 3 percent of ICU beds available," Dr. Weston said.
Dr. Weston noted rural regions are operating with as little as zero to three ICU beds available. He added that southeast Wisconsin, which has larger health systems, is currently fairing better but only 5 percent of ICU beds are available in an area with larger populations.
"One in every three ICU patients in the state are Covid patients. You can imagine the effect it has on ICU and broader hospital capacities," said Dr. Ben Weston, chief health policy advisor for Milwaukee County.
"As we see cases and hospitalizations rising in Milwaukee County, it certainly becomes concerning for how well we can manage all those patients coming in, in hospitals that are getting more and more full," Dr. Weston said.
While the omicron variant has dominated headlines, it is the delta variant fueling trends in Wisconsin.
In Milwaukee County, 57% of residents have had their first dose of the vaccine below the state average of 59%. So the question becomes, why are people still not getting vaccinated? Dr. Mary Beth Graham, medical director for infection prevention and control at Froedtert Hospital, says there are a number of factors including the continued spread of false information about the vaccine online.
To combat the rising number of COVID-19 cases, Dr. Graham says that people need to get their booster shot if they've already been vaccinated. As for those who still haven't gotten the vaccine, she says it's time for health officials to switch their approach.
"Telling human beings you have to do something is one of the best ways to get them to not want to do it. So it's how to deliver the message. It's contacting and getting those leaders or who people look to, and then having them hopefully try to encourage those around," said Dr. Graham.
Officials at Froedtert add that they still encourage people to come in and be seen at the hospital if they're dealing with a medical issue, and that they always have a way of finding beds.