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ThedaCare pausing non-urgent elective surgeries during COVID patient surge

Posted at 12:02 PM, Jan 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-17 20:06:17-05

SHAWANO (NBC 26) — ThedaCare is deferring all non-urgent elective surgeries starting Monday as the healthcare system sees a record number of COVID-19 patients across its seven hospitals.

This includes surgeries such as total joint or hip replacements.

"A lot of thought and preparation goes into a decision like that," said Dr. Michael Hooker, ThedaCare vice president and chief medical officer-acute care. "Obviously lots of impact to our patients and our community when you pause surgeries like this."

Medical providers and surgery teams are working with patients on a case-by-case basis to see what surgeries can safely be put on hold.

Hooker said there isn't a definitive threshold for when elective surgeries will resume. He said staff will continually evaluate COVID inpatient volume, staff levels and testing supply.

ThedaCare will continue emergency and time-sensitive surgeries.

As of Monday morning, 94 COVID patients are admitted in ThedaCare's seven hospitals. Lynn Detterman, senior vice president of the ThedaCare south region, said these are the highest levels the system's seen throughout the entire pandemic.

"Our current forecast model predicts that these cases will continue to rise for the next two to three weeks," Detterman said. "Our hospitals are full and the wait times are long."

Detterman said many of ThedaCare's COVID units are full. She said ThedaCare Regional Medical Center in Neenah opened a second COVID unit on Friday to keep up with the influx of COVID patients.

"On the sixth floor - that's our surgical unit - we've had to make half of that unit our new COVID unit," Detterman said. "So these COVID patients are consuming beds that we would've used for our surgical patients. And we need that surgery team to be redeployed to care for these patients as well."

There continues to be little to no hospital beds available in the Fox Valley as COVID-19 case numbers increase, according to the Wisconsin Hospital Association.

Every single inpatient bed is full at ThedaCare Medical Center-Shawano. Julie Chikowski, ThedaCare North Region vice president, said the center's had one of the highest percentage of COVID patients throughout the pandemic.

"There have been times when 85% of my medical surgical beds have been COVID patients," Chikowski said. "Never in our history of being open here have we had these kinds of numbers. Never."

The latest DHS datashows nearly 47% of residents in Shawano County have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. It's one of the lowest rates in Northeast Wisconsin and below the state rate of almost 63%.

Nearly 80% of COVID patients hospitalized in a ThedaCare ICU throughout the pandemic have not been vaccinated, according to the system's latest data.

"In the last couple weeks we've been in situations where every single room was full in the ED," Chikowski said. "Our waiting rooms were full, our med surge department was full and there were no beds immediately available."

Chikowski said staff members across the system are being cross trained in areas they don't normally work to help support inpatient numbers.

In addition to getting vaccinated, Chikowski said the public can help by going to the right place for care: Only use the emergency department for emergency medical needs, such as broken bones or chest pain. She said people should check other locations for walk-in and primary care visits, as well as COVID-19 tests.