Jeramey Jannene

COVID-19 Facility at State Fair Park Opens

Alternative care facility fielding calls from hospitals across state looking to transfer patients.

By - Oct 14th, 2020 05:01 pm
Hospital bed being setup in McCormick Place. U.S. Air Force file photo by Senior Airman Jay Grabiec

Hospital bed being setup in McCormick Place. U.S. Air Force file photo by Senior Airman Jay Grabiec

The state’s COVID-19 alternative care facility (ACF) is open and ready for up to 50 patients at Wisconsin State Fair Park in West Allis.

The facility, which state and local officials repeatedly said they never hoped to use, opened Wednesday morning as the state reported a record number of people are hospitalized with COVID-19.

The ACF is intended to serve as a relief valve for strained or overburdened hospitals. Patients, aged 18 to 60, that have been hospitalized for at least 48 hours can be transported to the facility from any Wisconsin hospital.

“They are patients that are in the last few days of a normal hospitalization,” said facility CEO Debra Standridge, the retired CEO of Ascension Wisconsin. She said individuals would be expected to stay in the facility for three to six days. The facility will not accept patients that were recently in an intensive care unit.

During a media briefing Wednesday afternoon, Standridge said the organization is fielding calls from hospitals across the state as to whether their patients qualify.

How many will be transported to the facility? “I cannot give you a number because we are still having those conversations,” said the health care veteran.

But she does know how they will get there. Gold Cross Ambulance will transport the patients by ambulance to the facility. Patients must meet a number of health benchmarks to be eligible, including have a temperature of 100 degrees or less. The facility, described as a field hospital, does have in-line oxygen to each of the beds.

The ACF was assembled in April inside the 200,000-square-foot exposition center on the south end of State Fair Park. It has 530 beds, but is currently only accepting up to 50 patients. Standridge, however, said current staffing levels would support an increase in capacity to 75 or 100 patients. The medical team consists of a mix of experienced physicians, registered nurses, pharmacists and other medical professionals.

But how can the facility find staff if other hospitals are feeling large strains? “We have staff from all over the United States,” said Standridge. “We are very grateful that they heard the call and want to be here in Wisconsin.”

Patients in the ACF will not have to pay for their stay, nor their transportation to and from it. That cost is being covered by the state’s multi-billion dollar allocation from the federal CARES Act. Department of Health Services deputy secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said the state has reserved approximately $400 million for the purpose.

The $15 million facility includes showers, dividing walls and expanded bathrooms. It does not provide the full range of care available in a hospital, but offers a basic level of oversight and comfort.

A similar facility was planned for Dane County, but was never completed. McCormick Place, Chicago’s convention center, was partially converted to an alternative care facility. Standridge said her team has learned a substantial amount after communicating with personnel at the Chicago facility and other alternative care facilities. She said the top takeaway was “communication.”

Additional care facilities could be constructed in Wisconsin if needed.

“What we need people to do in this state is to take this seriously with their own personal behavior,” said Willems Van Dijk. She asked people to avoid mass gatherings, wear a mask when in public and avoid unnecessary trips. “Looking at these numbers, the trajectory does not look good.”

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Categories: Health

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