Jeramey Jannene

Milwaukee County Hospitals Increase Capacity

50 percent more hospital beds, double ICU beds as hospitals convert spaces to prepare for the worst.

By - Apr 9th, 2020 06:03 pm
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Triage tent at St. Luke's hospital. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Triage tent at St. Luke’s. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee’s hospital capacity is growing.

“All of the hospital systems in Milwaukee are working together like never before,” said Dr. Ben Weston, Milwaukee County’s director of medical services at the office of emergency management, during a Thursday afternoon briefing.

Total hospital beds in the county have grown from 2,400 to 3,600. “That’s an almost 50 percent increase,” said Weston in detailing the numbers. Intensive care unit beds have grown from 450 to almost 900.

How did new hospital beds appear? “The first thing the hospitals did was to look at clinical spaces, how they could convert clinical spaces into spaces for beds,” said Weston. He said this includes spaces used for elective surgeries that aren’t happening currently.

Other spaces including gastroenterology labs and anesthesia rooms have been converted. “They had multiple runs through their hospitals to figure out how they could maximize the number of beds,” said Weston.

Construction is starting on what could be the biggest boost of all: an alternative care facility in the Exposition Center at Wisconsin State Fair Park. Gilbane Building Co. was awarded a design-build contract to outfit the space by the Army Corps of Engineers. HGAJohnson Controls, Staff Electric, J.F. Ahern and Hetzel Sanfilipo are partnering on the project.

“If you just imagine how complex the operation of a hospital is, we are trying to establish generally that same level of an operation in a convention center,” said Colonel Aaron W. Reisinger, commanding officer of the Army Corps of Engineers’ Chicago district. The facility would be used for individuals with milder cases, freeing up capacity in hospitals. Logistical challenges at the moment including upgrading heating, ventilation and air conditioning facilities, constructing showers, establishing a backup power source. “I think we will start to see the real physical structure start to rise in two to four days.”

It’s still unclear if the facility will be needed, but local officials want to be prepared. It mirrors similar facilities in Chicago and Detroit. “We spend every day preparing to do things we hope we never have to do,” said Reisinger of the role of the Army Corps of Engineers. A final cost for the facility, to be paid by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), is still being determined.

“We are hoping that you can criticize us two, three, four weeks from now and say you shouldn’t have done that,” said Mayor Tom Barrett. The mayor called the state fair park facility “the insurance plan.” Adding, “It is my sincere hope that there is never a single patient in this facility.”

“We have had a little bit of an indication what we’re doing is working, but no one should think we should take our foot off the gas,” added Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele.

Want to learn more about hospital capacity? A new interactive tool allows the public to view hospital capacity and usage across the state.

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Categories: Health

One thought on “Milwaukee County Hospitals Increase Capacity”

  1. Mingus says:

    The health care workers and first responders will be the new heroes for the next decade.

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