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How rural hospitals are dealing with the COVID-19 surge

Published: Oct. 15, 2020 at 9:42 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - We’re seeing the surge of COVID-19 cases impact hospital capacity across the state. Now we’re taking a closer look at how it’s taking a toll on rural hospitals and testing capacity.

It’s been months since Door County had more than one COVID-19 testing site. Starting next week, the county will activate two additional sites, each available once a week on alternating Mondays.

Currently, Door County Medical Center is the only place in the county where people can get tested. (We have details on the new testing sites at the end of the article.)

“Understand that Door County has a very unique topography with very long, thin landscape, so it can be up to 45 minutes to an hour for people to drive to Sturgeon Bay to get a test,” Door County Emergency Management communications director Dan Kane acknowledged.

Door County Medical Center can do about 150 tests per day. Chief Medical Officer James Heise said, “The best way we can get on top of this and define what people have the virus and slow the spread is to test more widely.”

Heise says the hospital had 8 COVID-19 patients Thursday. Staff has been doing their best to keep them isolated.

“Green Bay doesn’t have a lot of ‘room at the inn,’ either, so we’re managing a lot of these on our own, but thankfully people haven’t been that sick that we’ve had to require transfer,” Dr. Heise said.

In Oconto, testing is also being done at Bellin Health Oconto Hospital, but with only 10 beds, COVID-19 patients are being transferred to Green Bay.

“We really want to consolidate the COVID patients that are positive in one location. It’s easier for the staff, it’s better for the patients, and we can really condense that work in different pods in Green Bay,” hospital vice president Julie Bieber explained.

Bieber said shifting patients to different locations has worked well so far. The surge has also caused some rearranging of staff.

“They’re wonderful at cross-training and learning new tasks, and what that’s done is given us a broader band to really cover all of our patient care,” Bieber said.

Heise says the Door County Medical Center has also found different ways to utilize staff and space.

“Clinic nurses that would normally do outpatient work are being repurposed and we’re using them at the inpatient units. We’re fortunate enough to have an older ICU, which was not in use prior to this, so we actually have a designated COVID unit," said Heise.

Door County COVID-19 Testing

The two Door County community testing sites will be open on alternating Mondays from 8 A.M. to 4 P.M.

The northern site at Sister Bay Fire Station, 2258 Mill Rd., is open on Oct. 19, Nov. 2, Nov. 16, and Nov. 30.

The southern site at Sturgeon Bay Fire Station, 421 Michigan St., is open Oct. 26, Nov. 9, Nov. 23, and Dec. 7.

You must be experiencing at least a mild symptom of COVID-19: Cough, fatigue, shortness of breath, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, fever, chills, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, or a sudden loss of taste or smell. Only adults and children 5 or older can be tested.

Testing is on a first-come/first-serve basis. Pre-registration is not required but still recommended. Go to https://register.covidconnect.wi.gov.

The testing sites are in partnership with the Wisconsin National Guard.

Copyright 2020 WBAY. All rights reserved.

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