University of Wisconsin hospitals are short of staff at 'all times' as Covid slams state

  • The University of Wisconsin's health system is experiencing staffing crunches across its seven-hospital system during the state's latest Covid-19 wave.
  • "We are short of staff all times, either because they have Covid or they have some other illness and we need to rule out Covid before we bring them back to work," UW Health CEO Dr. Alan Kaplan told CNBC.
  • "There is no surplus staff to deploy to other hospitals to help each other out, so we're trying to equal the load," added Kaplan.

Hospitals across the University of Wisconsin health system are facing staffing crunches as the state gets slammed with a surge in coronavirus cases and front-line caregivers get infected.

"We are short of staff all times, either because they have Covid or they have some other illness and we need to rule out Covid before we bring them back to work," UW Health CEO Dr. Alan Kaplan said Thursday on CNBC' "Squawk on the Street."

The result is the seven-hospital system is unable to shift doctors and nurses around to areas where there may be a greater need, Kaplan said. He cautioned, however, that it has not had to adopt a policy recently taken up in North Dakota, where health-care workers with asymptomatic coronavirus cases can keep providing care in Covid-19 units.

"We have not reached that level of desperate measures yet. Hopefully we won't get there," Kaplan said. But, he added, "there is no surplus staff to deploy to other hospitals to help each other out, so we're trying to equal the load. We're all trying to keep patients local."

"Right now we are very diligent at screening our employees who are symptomatic and trying to limit quarantines by looking at people who are asymptomatic and test negative to bring them back to work," he added.

Covid-19 hospitalizations in Wisconsin are at an all-time high of almost 1,915, based on a seven-day average, according to a CNBC analysis of data from the COVID Tracking Project, an effort run by journalists at The Atlantic. That is up 22% compared with a week ago.

"We're finding that all of our hospitals are reaching their limit in capacity," Kaplan said, noting the influx of Covid patients must be handled alongside people who need treatment for unrelated conditions. "It's taking care of those who still have illnesses that haven't gone away, whether it be cancer, traumas or other types of diseases."

Wisconsin's seven-day average of new cases now sits at nearly 6,300, which is up 23% compared with a week ago, per CNBC's analysis. The state also tallied 159 deaths from Covid-19 on Wednesday, according to Hopkins data. The seven-day average of coronavirus fatalities is nearly 57, up 54% from the prior week.

The coronavirus outbreak in Wisconsin has been intensifying for weeks, with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers warning of "alarming trends" in early October. At the time, the state had just reported its highest one-day death total of 27. Overall, Wisconsin has at least 2,554 deaths from Covid-19.

"Our big surge was late April and May and now this second surge, since we didn't have a large summer surge, is quite a bit more severe," Kaplan said. "If you look at our total of nearly 300,000 cases over the past year, 50% of those have occurred in the last month, including nearly half of the deaths we've experienced."

— CNBC's Nate Rattner contributed to this report.

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