COVID-19 alternate care facility to open at State Fair Park next week

Wisconsin National Guard teams helped construct and set up the alternate care facility at State Fair Park. (Photo: Wisconsin National Guard)

Last updated on October 8th, 2020 at 12:42 pm

An overflow alternate care facility, constructed on the Wisconsin State Fair Park grounds in preparation for a COVID-19 surge at area hospitals, will begin seeing patients Oct. 14, Gov. Tony Evers announced Wednesday. 

The decision to open the alternate care facility came at the request of hospital systems as they see “record surges” in COVID-19 patient hospitalizations in Wisconsin, Evers said. 

In the past month, the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state has nearly tripled, from 289 hospitalized patients on Sept. 7 to 853 on Oct. 6. Between Monday and Tuesday alone, 71 more patients were hospitalized statewide. 

COVID-19 hospitalizations have more than quadrupled over the past month in the Fox Valley, northeast, northwest, north central, and western regions of the state. 

The alternate care facility is expected to open with a capacity to serve 50 patient beds, with the ability to ramp-up operations based on health systems’ capacity needs. It currently has 530 patient spaces, including 296 with in-line oxygen care. 

The medical facility was built in April, but it has not yet been activated as area hospitals were not overwhelmed by the number of COVID-19 patients throughout the spring and summer. 

Mayor Tom Barrett and other public officials have called the facility an “insurance policy” that they hoped would never get used. 

“We hoped this day wouldn’t come, but unfortunately, Wisconsin is in a much different, more dire place today and our health care systems are beginning to become overwhelmed by the surge of COVID-19 cases,” Evers said. “This alternative care facility will take some of the pressure off our health care facilities while expanding the continuum of care for folks who have COVID-19.” 

The rise in COVID-19 cases has meant hospitals across the state are experiencing critical staffing shortages, largely due to staff members experiencing infection or exposure to the virus, Evers said in his announcement. 

“Our hospital system is strained and in some areas of the state reaching capacity and at risk of being overwhelmed,” said Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm. “And as COVID-19 cases rise, hospitals across the state are experiencing critical staffing shortages – largely due to staff members experiencing infection or exposure to the virus in their communities. This is why we need every Wisconsinite to follow our recommendations and take this seriously. When hospitals are at capacity, it doesn’t matter if you need care because of COVID-19 or a heart attack. We have to disrupt transmission so Wisconsinites can get the care they need.” 

The alternate care facility will coordinate with health care systems to admit patients who need care but are not seriously ill in need of hospital-level care. It will serve as a transitional facility to offer oxygen and medical care for COVID-19 patients who still need support in their recovery, with the goal of reserving hospital beds for patients who are more ill.  

The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers signed a contract with Gilbane Milwaukee and several Wisconsin sub-contractors, including HGA, Johnson Controls, Staff Electric, F. Ahern, and Hetzel Sanfillipo, to build the facility in April. 

Funding for the alternate care facility comes from a $445 million surge reserve fund set aside by Evers from federal CARES Act funding.

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