Eau Claire area hospitals are nearing capacity

Staffing, facilities and resources concerned

Sam Janssen

More stories from Sam Janssen


Photo by Emma Steiler

Staffing is also an issue at hospitals due to COVID-19 exposure among the workers.

According to Marshfield Medical Center, hospitals in the Eau Claire area and all across Wisconsin have some of the highest hospitalization rates in the nation right now.

Bill Priest, chief administrative officer at Marshfield Medical Center in Eau Claire, said this puts a huge strain on the hospitals’ abilities to care for patients.

“Currently, staffing is our greatest challenge,” Priest said.

Priest said the staffing difficulty is due in large part to healthcare workers being sidelined for quarantine due to exposure to the virus.

Ken Johnson, a doctor with the HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital emergency room, said they are evaluating which elective care procedures they can do every day.

“We, on a daily basis, look at anything we are doing that is elective and see if we have resources to do that or if we need to redistribute our resources,” Johnson said.

Johnson also said staffing is an issue in the hospitals due to exposure within the community.

“The reality is healthcare workers — like all citizens — are being sidelined at alarming rates due to exposure and quarantine requirements,” Johnson said.

At the end of October, Mayo Clinic Health System temporarily shut down all elective care in all of their Northwest Wisconsin locations to prioritize patients in need of emergency care, including for COVID-19, said Richard Helmers, its regional vice president.

Helmers said many other steps are being taken, including using remote patient monitoring when it is possible, as well as in-home care and bringing in extra staff from other Mayo Clinic facilities in the country.

“It is becoming very challenging to find a staffed bed for everyone who needs one right now,” Priest said.

According to Priest, every hospital in the area has “surge plans” in place to reshape the utilization of staffing, hospital space and resources.

“The surge plans in effect have worked,” Priest said, “but I am very concerned looking ahead if we can’t find a way to bend the curve and stop the spread of COVID-19 in our area.”

According to Helmers, COVID-19 patients require hospital stays 2-3 times longer than an average stay, and often require one-on-one care.

“We are now at risk of overwhelming our healthcare system,” Helmers said.

Johnson said the surge in the Eau Claire area began around mid-September, and attributes it to “COVID-fatigue,” as well as the college-aged population playing a major role.

Johnson said while there is “hope on the horizon,” citizens need to practice social distancing to limit the spread of the virus.

“It appears there is a vaccine coming, hopefully within a couple of months,” Johnson said. “However, to fully immunize the population is going to take well into next year.”

Helmers also said COVID-19 fatigue is becoming a problem in the community, but urges everyone to follow social distancing guidelines for the safety of the community.

“We know what works,” Helmers said. “Avoiding medium and large family gatherings, masking, social distancing and hand-washing.”

Priest also said adhering to social distancing guidelines is crucial to help aid this situation in the community.

“Everyone has a responsibility to do what they can to protect themselves and those most vulnerable to infection, and we need everyone to understand when they follow these guidelines they can help flatten the curve,” Priest said. “This is literally saving lives.”

Helmers said if the spread of the virus is going to be slowed down, the community needs everyone’s help.

“We can do this, but we have to do it together,” Helmers said.

Janssen can be reached at [email protected]