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Aspirus Wausau Hospital transforms ambulance bay into emergency patient overflow

Published: Nov. 20, 2020 at 6:38 PM CST
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - The surge in COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin has caused Aspirus Wausau Hospital to repurpose and begin using a whole new wing at their emergency department.

Hospitals around Wisconsin have had eight months to watch and learn as hospitals in other parts of the country saw surges in COVID-19 cases.

“We knew that we had to plan for surge,” Robin Rudie, Aspiruas Wausau Hospital emergency department nursing director said/ “So as we looked around at what space we had, we knew that we could use this space for something more.”

This space being an ambulance bay connected to the emergency department. In March, they added 10 beds to the unit, put in wall partitions, and added basic medical equipment.

“It has been turned into a care treatment space for overflow patients when we can’t fit everybody that we need to fit in the ED in a rapid fashion,” she explained.

The space did not really get used for months after being repurposed. Emergency patient numbers dropped by 50% in the early months of the pandemic as people were hesitant to come near a hospital. Then, the surge hit a few weeks ago. Now, it is used roughly three to four times a week. Depending on what the needs are in the emergency department at that time, it is used either exclusively for COVID-19 positive patients or exclusively for patients with other emergency needs.

“It’s not those that are the most critically ill,” she said about the patients that get treated in the bay. “We definitely use it for our lower acuity ED patients to help expedite their care through the department so that they’re not waiting in the waiting room to be seen for many hours.”

Rudie said COVID-19 protocols have necessarily reduced efficiencies, which add to those wait times.

“What’s changed is just our workflows and just how to manage both the non-COVID type of patient and then the COVID type of patient and just having to be mindful to avoid transmission of COVID to patients who don’t have it,” Rudie explained.

Disinfecting rooms and constantly safely changing out many layers of personal protective equipment takes a lot of time. She said they cannot pop their heads into rooms to talk with patients anymore to ensure they do not transmit COVID-19 unintentionally. That is why the extra wing not only helps keep people out of the waiting room and provides more available patient beds, but they’re also able to keep COVID-19 positive patients there for emergency services away from people who are there for other emergency services.

“It’s trying to accommodate day-to-day work with adding in the complexity of COVID patients,” Rudie stated.

While emergency department staff have become flexible to help in the in-patient COVID-19 unit, Rudie said largely staff in the emergency department have been kept working in the emergency department due to the type of skills needed in that environment. However, like all departments, they are impacted by staff having to quarantine or isolate due to COVID-19 and that is when other emergency staff take on extra hours or shifts to fill in the gaps.

“Why I get up every day is because I’m serving patients and I’m serving my team members,” Rudie expressed about herself and her staff. “My people need me and I’m going to be there for them.”

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