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Leaders from Mayo Clinic Health System in Northwest Wisconsin hosted a community forum on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, as the area continues to experience a significant surge in COVID-19 cases. During that forum, these leaders provided an overview of the organization's critical response to the COVID-19 pandemic (video) and answered questions from attendees.
Watch the full community forum:
Listen to the audio from the forum or read the forum transcript. The information and figures presented during the forum were correct as of Nov. 5, 2020. Due to the pandemic's fluctuating nature, the details will frequently change.
This is a summary of the forum presentation and Q&A session:
Richard Helmers, M.D., regional vice president, Northwest Wisconsin Region, Mayo Clinic Health System:
- Protecting patients' health and safety is the highest priority at Mayo Clinic Health System. The organization is committed to its patients and staff, and the communities it serves. This includes being transparent and honest about the current COVID-19 situation.
- There was no other way to say it. We absolutely need your help. We're facing a sobering reality here in Eau Claire and surrounding communities as COVID-19 community infection rates continue to increase rapidly.
- The number of people who have tested positive in this is staggering. We're seeing a surge of patients who are positive for COVID-19 in our hospitals.
Jason Craig, regional chair of administration, Northwest Wisconsin Region, Mayo Clinic Health System
- The combination of COVID-19 admissions and the prevalence of positivity in our communities are causing a considerable strain on our ability to continue meeting the care needs of our community.
- We have multiple staff absent due to restrictions related to COVID-19, either exposures or positivity. This can have a significant impact on how we provide care to patients.
- The weekly testing positivity rates continue to trend upward.
- We have many hospitalized patients in facilities throughout Northwest Wisconsin. About half of the patients hospitalized for COVID in our ICU require ventilator support.
- Whether on the main unit or in the ICU, a very large number of patients with COVID-19 require one-to-one care and more staff time.
- Due to the deferral of elective work within our region, we have been able to redeploy staff and maintain access to our urgent and emergent services.
Pam White, D.N.P., chief nursing officer, Northwest Wisconsin Region, Mayo Clinic Health System
- This surge of COVID-19 cases in our region takes a huge physical and emotional toll on staff. We are human, and we're really tired of this just like you are.
- It might be hard to believe things are so dire, but we are at a critical point in the Chippewa Valley.
- We're asking for your help in supporting our staff so that we can keep our capacity and ability to care for everyone in our community.
- We know the current no-visitor policy is extremely hard for our patients and their loved ones. It's very hard on our staff, as well. The decisions about this policy and other changes are not made lightly. They are made out of an abundance of caution to continue keeping our staff and patients as safe as possible.
- Staff is working extra hours and shifts in order to provide care for those in our community who need it most. We're here to serve, but we're also reaching our limitations.
- We only have so many staff members, and we're exploring other staffing options right now. We've contacted retired staff. We're looking at how students can help. We're moving staff from other areas to help in the hospital. We've called in nurses from Rochester and Arizona to help us. And we've brought in traveling nurses. This is not something we do on a regular basis.
- Managers, including myself, are putting on scrubs and doing what they can do to help staff and patients.
Thank you, everyone, for your support and your questions. We are fortunate to provide care in Northwest Wisconsin. We're all in this together. We are grateful to all of you for doing your part. Thank you for helping to lead by example in the community. We encourage everyone in your network to do the same.
Be vigilant with wearing your mask, avoiding medium and large gatherings, washing your hands, and keeping space between you and others. We know that works.
Thank you for your time, for your willingness to help and your willingness to influence others.
When will a vaccine be available, and when would Mayo Clinic have it available?
We anticipate having a vaccine in the first quarter of 2021. We're developing plans to quickly stand up vaccination clinics. There are a number of clinical trials underway that are showing promising results. This is due to the tremendous effort of scientists throughout the country, including Mayo Clinic, to develop and test the vaccine options. It's important to understand that vaccine developers are expected to meet very rigorous safety requirements, so the vaccine will be safe.
I see that many high school and colleges approved winter sports. What is Mayo's stance on this?
The key is proper mitigation efforts. If we cannot ensure proper mitigation steps within the various sports, we would not recommend that those sports continue. Our school districts have put in a tremendous amount of work and effort to maintain those mitigation efforts. We want to recognize the school districts for those efforts. There are a lot of winter sports that are very unique from fall sports, being that they cannot be conducted outdoors, which creates a different level of risk. In some instances, winter sports carry a higher likelihood of person-to-person contact and close proximity.
If Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers mandates a safer-at-home order similar to the one issued in March, how will my business and health care be affected?
The likelihood of that happening again is low. It's important that we all take individual ownership and spread our influence to follow the public health guidelines. Masking, physical distancing, hand-washing, getting the flu shot — we have to adhere to these recommended behaviors When the safer-at-home order was in place, we saw at much lower prevalence. We must count on ourselves and count on each other to be able to get some control over this virus spread.
Can someone clarify what "deferred practice" means? Can I attend my scheduled clinic appointments for routine care?
Even though we're deferring elective surgeries and procedures, we are open. We are not deferring all care. Emergency, urgent care, obstetrics care and care for people with underlying health conditions, including cancer, will continue. Registration staff is calling patients if appointments need to be rescheduled or if appointments will shift to virtual visits. Speak up if you believe your care needs are urgent and can't wait.
Why aren't we hearing the same concerns from other health care organizations in our community? Are they in a surge capacity, as well?
We're in close contact with other health care providers across Northwest Wisconsin. Many are seeing similar concerns as we are. It is an issue across the state of Wisconsin.
COVID-19 is no worse than the seasonal flu. Why should I be concerned? Is misdiagnosis possible?
COVID-19 is not just like influenza, and there are significant differences. During non-COVID times, we would be significantly concerned if we had five or six patients in our hospital with influenza. We have over 10 times more patients in our hospitals with COVID-19.
Some seem to suggest doctors and hospitals are falsely reporting COVID-19 cases to make more money or make the pandemic appear more severe that it is. Is this true?
According to Wisconsin statistics, approximately 5% of those testing positive for COVID-19 require hospitalization. That means 95% do not require hospitalization. If hospitals deliver unnecessary care, Medicare and payers will not pay for that care. So the narrative that there's a profit motive behind COVID-19 is flatly untrue. To think that we would defer elective work, which is a much higher volume, in order to care for a COVID-19 population does not make financial sense.
Is it true that spikes in COVID-19 cases are because of increased testing?
The rise in infections is not related to increased testing. The cause for concern is the increase in the percentage of positive results. We're seeing that positive result percentage continue to go up. This means that the virus is spreading quickly in our communities.
Some suggest we can achieve herd immunity by letting the virus spread through the population. That way, we can get back to normal more quickly. Is that valid?
The term herd immunity refers to when a large portion of a community becomes immune to an infection. The fewer people that can have the infection, the fewer people there are to pass it on. As a result, the whole community becomes protected ― not just those who are immune. We think having the infection makes one immune, but that hasn't been proven yet. The problem with relying on community infection to create long-lasting herd immunity is that a large number of people have to become infected to reach the threshold for herd immunity. If that many people become ill with COVID-19 at once, the health care system would quickly become overwhelmed. This amount of infection can lead to serious complications and a large number of preventable deaths.
Why should healthy people be concerned? It seems only the elderly or those with underlying health conditions will get very ill and require hospitalization for COVID-19.
People of all ages can contract COVID-19. However, the risk of developing dangerous symptoms from COVID-19 is really increased in people who are older or people of any age who have other serious health problems, such as heart or lung conditions, weakened immune systems, severe obesity or diabetes. People from all age groups are being hospitalized with COVID-19. The ages of the hospitalized individuals fluctuate day to day as people are discharged and new people are admitted. We have seen severely ill individuals in their 20s, 30s, 40s — all ages across the spectrum.