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“We’re struggling here.” Madison hospitals postpone some surgeries to increase ICU capacity

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Madison hospitals announced they would immediately start postponing some non-urgent procedures in an effort to free up staff and space for more ICU beds.

UW Health, SSM Health St. Mary's Hospital - Madison and UnityPoint Health - Meriter are delaying some procedures that might require the patient to recover in the ICU.

Kyle Nondorf, the president of SSM Health St. Mary's Hospital - Madison, said these are being determined on a case-by-case basis but often include neuroscience and heart procedures.

Dr. Jeff Pothof, UW Health's chief quality officer, said the procedures being delayed aren't emergency surgeries.

"The things that we need to postpone or delay are not things that we feel are going to have an impact on people living or dying," he said.

Pothof said hospitals made the decision to change out of necessity.

"We need the intensive care unit bed for someone with a more critical need," he said. "We're struggling here. We have too many really, really sick patients, and we can no longer provide the medical care to everyone who needs it."

Nondorf said Wisconsin's trend of increasing hospitalizations was a major driver of the change.

"With increased COVID hospitalizations, obviously that stresses and puts demands on the services that we're able to provide," he said.

Pothof and Nondorf both said their hospitals have seen an increase in the proportion of people hospitalized with COVID-19 who need more intensive treatment.

"One thing that has been a little bit surprising to us is just how sick patients who get admitted are getting and what kind of advanced therapies and treatments they're requiring to fight for their life," Pothof said.

But Nondorf told 27 News the strain on ICUs isn't happening solely because of COVID-19 cases.

"We also have normal, seasonal operations that we're seeing," he said. "The COVID hospitalizations are just compounding that for us."

Pothof said while Friday's announcement will help hospitals keep up with demand, it's not a permanent fix.

"If this pandemic keeps getting worse, and hospitals need to continue to take more and more critically ill COVID patients, at some point, the math doesn't work out," he said. "It gets hard to just turn off things that are non-urgent, and that's really a position that none of us want to get to."

He said if the trend of increasing hospitalizations continues, eventually hospitals won't be able to keep up.

"We're just getting really close to not having enough room for the next patient that needs our help, whether they're suffering from COVID-19 or whether they're suffering from another medical emergency," he said.

That could lead to negative outcomes that everyone wants to avoid.

"If we continue to hear about record cases every day, things start to get really bad," he said. "People start to not get the care that they need. People who otherwise would have lived, may not live."

Pothof and Nondorf said area hospitals are still doing urgent surgeries, like appendectomies and C-sections. If you have a procedure scheduled and it is postponed, they say hospital representatives will contact you.

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