Hospital ICU beds fill up across Wisconsin

There are no ICU beds available in western Wisconsin and northwestern Wisconsin, according to the Wisconsin Hospital Association.
Of the 1,353 total ICU beds in Wisconsin, WHA reports just over 5% of beds are currently available.
Published: Nov. 29, 2021 at 5:01 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 29, 2021 at 6:55 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Two regions of Wisconsin show zero open ICU beds Monday, according to data from the Wisconsin Hospital Association.

Of the 1,353 total ICU beds in Wisconsin, WHA reports just over 5% of beds are currently available.

Both western Wisconsin and northwestern Wisconsin show zero open ICU beds of the 36 and 72 total, respectively. Western Wisconsin includes Crawford, Vernon and Monroe counties.

South Central Wisconsin reports having 18 of its 260 ICU units open for patients.

RegionICU units availableICU units total
Fox Valley7104
North Central3125
South Central18260

The number of COVID-19 patients in Wisconsin ICUs continues to rise across the state, with 391 admitted Monday. December 2, 2020, was the last time that hospitalizations were higher.

The number of people hospitalized in Wisconsin with COVID-19 is also at the highest its been in almost a full year, WHA notes. The agency reports 1,432 people are currently hospitalized with the virus. You would have to go back to Dec. 15, 2020 to find a higher daily total of patients hospitalized.

This data is separate from information reported by the Department of Health Services, which was last updated on Nov. 23. That dashboard reports a seven-day average of 1,220 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, while an average of 323 people were admitted into an ICU.

DHS also notes that more than 63% of hospitals are at peak capacity in their ICUs and just over half are at overall peak capacity. South central Wisconsin reports its COVID-19 hospitalizations, specifically, are growing by 16%.

DHS adds that nearly 95% of ICU beds are in use across the state.

Burdened Healthcare Workers

At UW Health, emergency room nurse Kaci Waters says she knows one thing for sure each time she clocks in.

“More patients than we’ve ever seen and less nurses than we’ve ever had,” said Waters.

She says it’s hard to be a nurse right now as her emergency room is filled with all types of patients in need.

“People are very sick. Covid and not COVID,” said Waters. “I’ve never seen this many sick people in my life in the ER.”

At UW Health’s Trauma Life Center, nurse Justin Giebel says he and his coworkers are feeling the physical and emotional toll.

“You wish you could provide better care, but often times, we’re just not able to do that,” said Giebel. “It gets to be a really stressful situation.”

Health officials at SSM Health say the seven hospitals are at capacity. President of SSM Health and St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison, Kyle Nondorf, says it’s a daily concern to see what bed space is available.

“When you’re functioning at your capacity, you’re already seeing a lot higher patient demand than you would normally see,” he said. “We’re at our physical capacity. The staffing means we’re really stretching our teams to meet the beds that we currently have.”

Wisconsin Nurses Association Executive Director Gina Dennik-Champion says hospitals examine staffing levels when assigning patients to beds.

“If you looked at a hospital today, you might find some wings where there’s beds, but there’s not nurses,” said Dennik-Champion.

Seasonal illnesses and delayed elective surgeries are also contributing to full hospitals.

“We’re just trying to get through the winter,” she added. “It’s really really tough out there right now and our hospital systems are feeling the pressure.”

Across the health care industry, there is a shortage of workers. Many have chosen to leave the profession altogether or opt to work as a more lucrative travel nurse.

Waters says this means there are even less hands than ever before.

“It’s frustration and it’s heartbreak,” said Waters. “When we start to see people suffer, and we can’t do anything about it, that’s when we start to speak up.”

“UW Health continues to be very busy, and COVID-19 cases are rising, but inpatients with COVID-19 still represent less than 10% of our inpatient volume,” said UW Health Press Secretary Emily Kumlien.

Fewer than 2,000 cases reported Monday

DHS confirmed fewer than 2,000 new cases of the coronavirus Monday, following less tests taken during the holiday weekend.

There were 1,863 new cases on Monday, bringing the seven-day rolling average up slightly to 2,622. The total number of cases to date exceeded 870,000 Monday.

Four Wisconsinites with a COVID-19 diagnosis have died Monday, DHS notes, bringing the total death toll from the virus up to 8,973.

Wisconsin is one-tenth of a percent away from reaching 59% of its residents with at least one COVID-19 shot and around 56% have completed their vaccine series. There have been 458 vaccines administered to residents so far this week, the health department adds.

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