U.S. Army medical staff being deployed to overwhelmed Wisconsin hospitals

MADISON – Nearly four dozen U.S. Army medical workers are being deployed to Wisconsin to help out hospitals and health care workers stressed and exhausted by the continued surge of COVID-19 patients in the area. 

The Army personnel will work in medical centers in Beaver Dam, Eau Claire, Marshfield and Rice Lake. 

The facilities are in an area of Wisconsin with some of the highest and most sustained rates of COVID-19 infections. The Marshfield Clinic system, which oversees the facilities receiving help, has been utilizing volunteers from a state emergency assistance program, “but the need for more staff to meet patient demand remains a challenge,” Marshfield Clinic Health System CEO Susan Turney said.

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The 45 medical workers are being deployed by the U.S. Department of Defense.

“Because of the prolonged and intense nature of this crisis, many hospitals are near full capacity and medical staff is exhausted,” Turney said Wednesday in a statement. 

At the peak of the fall wave of COVID-19 infections that turned Wisconsin into one of the riskiest areas of the country, nurses at the Marshfield Medical Center were working 16-hour days, eight days in a row.

In that region, just seven hospital beds assigned for intensive care were available as of Wednesday.

Statewide Wednesday, the Department of Health Services reported 3,619 new COVID-19 cases and 81 deaths from the virus. While new daily cases are down from a mid-November peak, deaths continue to mount. In the last week, 385 people have died from the virus in Wisconsin.

COVID-19 hospitalizations are down since a mid-November peak of nearly 2,300 patients as well, but hospitals continue to face severe staffing shortages and capacity issues. On Wednesday there were 1,535 people hospitalized with the virus in the state, including 326 patients in intensive care units.

“Wisconsin’s healthcare system is strained, and our frontline healthcare workers are doing amazing work under extraordinary circumstances,” Gov. Tony Evers said Wednesday in a statement. “Many of them working back-to-back shifts in head-to-toe PPE, putting their health and safety on the line to take care of our vulnerable COVID-19 patients. This additional support is crucial and I thank the Department of Defense for providing these resources to the state.”

Sophie Carson of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.

Contact Molly Beck at molly.beck@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MollyBeck.