More than two weeks after it was set up, the alternate care facility at Wisconsin State Fair Park has not received any COVID-19 patients yet, as southeastern Wisconsin hospitals have not experienced extreme capacity surges.The makeshift hospital at the fairgrounds’ Exposition Center was authorized for use on April 23 to accommodate the potential overflow of low-acuity COVID-19 patients from area hospitals, in case they exceed their capacity. So far, it hasn’t been needed, which public health officials attribute to the state’s 'Safer at Home' social distancing measures.The alternate care facility was built in about two weeks by Gilbane Federal, which was awarded a $10 million contract for the project. It has the capacity to care for 750 patients. Facility leaders have described the hospital as an insurance policy, should the need for it arise.While Wisconsin continues to see an increasing number of new confirmed COVID-19 cases daily, the rate of growth has slowed over the past month.As of Thursday, confirmed cases were doubling every 14 days in Wisconsin, and every 19 days in Milwaukee, Dr. John Raymond, president and chief executive officer of the Medical College of Wisconsin, reported Thursday during the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce’s daily briefing. That’s compared to the state and region’s doubling rate of about every three days in late March.With the unknown duration of the pandemic, there are no plans to wind down the State Fair facility yet, a Wisconsin Department of Administration spokesperson said. A similar facility set up at the McCormick Place convention center in Chicago will be deconstructed due to a lack of COVID-19 patients. Several other similar facilities across the country have seen few patients.Several organizations are reviewing case data and hospital capacity to determine if and when the facility will be decommissioned, including the DOA, Department of Health Services, local emergency operations groups and the facility’s leadership team. The alternate care facility is led by chief executive officer Debra Standridge, a former Ascension Wisconsin regional president.
Currently, the Wisconsin State Fair is still scheduled for Aug. 6-16.
Cathy Jacobson, president and chief executive officer of Froedtert Health, said the region saw its peak COVID-19 hospitalizations in mid-April, followed by a plateau for about a week, and numbers have been steadily declining since then.“(We) are now running at about half, maybe two-thirds of where we were at peak,” Jacobson said Thursday during the MMAC briefing.
Jacobson credited the decline to social distancing measures.
"The 'Safer at Home' program worked," Jacobson said. "We have been able to flatten the curve and we were able to avoid a crisis in our health care system."
There were 246 hospitalized patients in southeastern Wisconsin with COVID-19 as of Friday, including 77 in the ICU, according to Wisconsin Hospital Association data. There are 150 of the region’s 653 ICU beds currently available, and 901 hospital beds immediately available, according to WHA.
While health care leaders expect to see a rise in COVID-19 cases as the state eases into reopening businesses and normal activity, Jacobson said area systems are "much, much better prepared" for that than they were two months ago.
This week, Milwaukee-area health systems have begun resuming – or are planning to resume – some elective procedures and are encouraging patients to seek routine and acute care at their facilities. Get more news and insight in the April 27 issue of BizTimes Milwaukee. Subscribe to get updates in your inbox here.