Death rate and 'emotional toll' are rising as COVID-19 surge continues in the Fox Valley, hospital leaders say (2024)

Death rate and 'emotional toll' are rising as COVID-19 surge continues in the Fox Valley, hospital leaders say (1)

More people have diedof COVID-19 in the Fox Valley than what was predicted for the month of October, a ThedaCare official told more than 150 community partners in a virtual meeting Friday morning.

As the virus surges through the region, it's beginning to hit older adults at a higher rate, explained Frank Mellon, ThedaCare's senior innovation executive. Six weeks ago, people 65 and older made up under half of the system's hospitalized patients, he said— now, they make up more than two-thirds.

Younger people, whose infections often yield milder symptoms and some of whom believe they are "bulletproof," still risk spreading the virus to the older population, Mellon said. That population "simply (doesn't) have the outcomes that the young do."

In Appleton, more than half of the deaths related to the virus since the pandemic began have occurred in the month of October.

And it's showingacross the state, too: Wisconsin reported a single-day high of 48 deaths on Wednesday.

MORE:Coronavirus activity widespread across Wisconsin as state passes 1,700 deaths from the virus

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COVID-19 hospitalizations in the eight counties that comprise the Fox Valley Healthcare Emergency Readiness Coalition have dipped over the last week from a high of 164 patients in hospitals with the virus on Oct. 16. But it'sno reason to breathe a sigh of relief, Mellon said— in the 200-some days that COVID-19 has been around, those dips have just as often preceded resurgences.

"We’re not leaning too hard on the idea that this is the plateau that will then begin the ultimate decrease," Mellon said."We’re bracing for what the model’s telling us."

Because so many people are still susceptible to the virus, he said, decreases can simply be temporary lulls until it finds a new pocket of hosts to infect. The model shows that, at the current rate of transmission,area hospitals may exceed 200 COVID-19 patients before reaching a peak.

ThedaCare's hospitals have been between 90% and completely full during this month, said chief clinical officer Dr. Mark co*ckley. If the number of patientscontinues to rise, they're prepared to send people to the alternate care facility in West Allis, which could house up to 500 people who are on the road to recovery but may need a few days of additional care.

In addition, ThedaCare moved earlier this week to postpone some elective surgeries that could be delayed, though hospital capacity has increased since then and surgeries have been rescheduled, co*ckley said.

Between 150 and 250 ThedaCare staff per day are still out sick or quarantining, co*ckley said. A third of those are nurses.

Laura Anklam, a nurse who treats COVID-19 patients at ThedaCare's Appleton hospital, said she feels far safer at work than when she has to run errands in the community, where some people ignore masking and distancing guidelines.

Beyond their physical health, nurses are struggling emotionally, Anklam said. Before a patient of hers passed away last week, she held a phone up to his ear so his wife— unable to be there in person— could say her last goodbyes.

"She asked me before I passed him the phone if I could just hold his hand for her, so he could feel that somebody was there with him," she said. "I feel like people don't realize how much of an emotional toll it's taking on us."

What Anklam shared is just the tip of the iceberg of what's happening inside the hospital, said ThedaCare president and CEO Dr. Imran Andrabi.

"For anyone who thinks this is not real, come to ThedaCare," Andrabi said. "It becomes really clear, really quickly how real this is."

John Bergstrom, chairman and CEO of Neenah-based Bergstrom Automotive, said the business community is listening to health care workers and is ready to do more to help stop the spread.

On a Tuesday call with staff at General Motors, Bergstrom said they explicitly noted that Wisconsin is the currentepicenter of the nation's COVID-19 outbreak. Then, he said, they went on to say it's nearly the epicenter of the world's outbreak.

"It really hit home," Bergstrom said.

Testing capabilities in the region are ramping up, with three new sites— at Appleton North High School, Christ the Rock church and ThedaCare Physicians-Neenah— opening in the last week. But the area's high percent positivity rate, which is heading toward 40%, Mellon said, shows more testing is still needed to get a handle on the spread of the virus.

MORE:Need a COVID test? Here's how and where you can get one in the Appleton area

ThedaCare leaders have taken the situation to the federal Department of Health and Human Services and to the White House— they will talk to anyone to get answers, he said. But much of the work to decrease the surgecan be done outside the hospital's walls, he added, using the same tools that health officials have been stressing for months: Masking, distancing, staying home and washing hands.

Contact reporter Madeline Heim at 920-996-7266 or Follow her on Twitter at @madeline_heim.

Death rate and 'emotional toll' are rising as COVID-19 surge continues in the Fox Valley, hospital leaders say (2024)
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