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Wisconsin’s rural hospitals in difficult position during COVID-19 spike

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P 5 RURAL HOSPITAL UPDATE.transfer_frame_990

PRAIRIE DU SAC (WKOW) - Wisconsin's rural hospitals are in difficult positions in the state's health care system as COVID-19 cases continue to spike.

At Sauk Prairie Hospital, officials continue to worry about the inventory of personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff, and whether doubling up patients in some rooms is enough to ensure adequate space in the 36-bed facility. But what's happening at the hospital's emergency department has statewide implications.

"We do take care of COVID-19 patients at this hospital but not at the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) level," says hospital chief innovation officer Dr. Nathan Grunewald. Grunewald says transferring patients from Emergency has been daunting. "We've spent countless hours on the phone to find beds for ICU level patients," he says. "We've had experiences where we've called throughout the entire state trying to find ICU beds."

Grunewald says transitioning other patients has also been challenging. "Emergency care is one thing, but what do we do when we have patients come into the hospital and often times need additional rehab when they're done with their in-patient-level care, we send them to skilled nursing facilities," Grunewald says. "Right now, we're struggling to find beds for those people as well."

Grunewald calls the people of the smaller communities in his area "the front line defense" against the continued spread of the coronavirus and calls on them to limit the size of gatherings, including those tied to Thanksgiving. "The reality is we're on an unsustainable trajectory of COVID-19 infections in our local, regional area," Grunewald says. "Our community members represent the front line of the battle against the coronavirus," he says. "This is a war that we're in."

Sauk County has no public health order limiting gatherings to immediate households only, as Dane County does.

Grunewald joined other area medical professionals in a letter to Sauk County supervisors and other leaders, urging them to take steps to address "gaps in adopting prevention strategies:"

Dear County Supervisor:
We at Sauk Prairie Healthcare and Prairie Clinic need your help to stem the rising numbers of
COVID19 infections. We are asking for your public support of prevention strategies: face
coverings, physical distancing, frequent hand-washing, and avoiding large gatherings.
As a community leader, you can have a significant impact helping our communities adopt
prevention strategies while keeping our local businesses vibrant. We ask that you speak directly
with your colleagues, friends, businesses, and family about the importance of adopting the
COVID19 prevention strategies. We ask you to share your support in conversations, interviews,
at community meetings, on social media, and anywhere else you think will be helpful.

This year has been particularly challenging for Sauk County with COVID19 causing significant
illness and death, along with economic hardship.
We have witnessed an unbelievable response from our communities. Many of our neighbors
have adopted prevention strategies even while suffering an economic toll. Unfortunately, there
have been some gaps in adopting prevention strategies, leading to increasing numbers of
COVID19 infections.
We want nothing more than to be available to care for our local community members when they
need us. The current increase of COVID19 infections threatens our ability to do this. In an effort

to balance the prevention of a severe infectious disease with the ability to care for our
community members locally, and the desire to support our local businesses, we need everyone
to adopt these basic measures.
We recognize the economic impact these prevention measures have on our local community
businesses, particularly distancing measures and avoiding large gatherings. But such

gatherings are where the majority of COVID19 transmission occurs. The more widespread our
use of prevention strategies, the more we can reduce transmission, allowing our communities to
We welcome your support and any opportunities to collaborate with you to improve the health
and safety of Sauk County. We are here to serve your health needs and provide answers to

your COVID19 questions. If we can provide you with any information, please feel free to contact
us at
Sauk Prairie Healthcare Medical Staff

Author Profile Photo

Tony Galli

Reporter, WKOW

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