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Emergency Bed Status declared at Oconomowoc Memorial Hospital

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Physicians urged to take steps to ease the hospital's space crunch

In a stark demonstration of the need for another hospital in western Waukesha County, Oconomowoc Memorial Hospital declared itself to be under "Emergency Bed Status" for six consecutive days this month, meaning that the hospital was at or near capacity.

Capacity problems again forced a declaration of Emergency Bed Status this past Tuesday, Jan. 24.

"The really troubling thing is that this is occurring in the absence of any flu outbreak or other unusual circumstance," said Scott Baker, administrator of the Aurora Wilkinson Medical Clinic. "The community is left to wonder what would happen if there was a sudden need to hospitalize a large group of patients."
The six consecutive days of Emergency Bed Status at Oconomowoc Memorial occurred Jan. 5 through Jan. 10.

When Oconomowoc Memorial declares Emergency Bed Status, physicians are encouraged to consider a range of steps to ease the space crunch. These steps include:

  • Discharge patients from the hospital as quickly as possible.
  • Admit patients only when absolutely necessary.
  • Postpone surgeries and other procedures.
  • Move patients out of intensive care as quickly as possible to make room for other critically ill patients.
  • Keep patients in intensive care longer than necessary because no regular hospital beds are available.

Emergency Bed Status also has a very real impact on the way patients receive care in the hospital. For example, during the 6 consecutive days of Emergency Bed Status this month, an adult patient leaving surgery had to be placed in the pediatric unit for lack of space elsewhere, and another patient had to be admitted to the obstetrics unit although she was not an obstetrics patient.

More recently, a patient admitted to the hospital last Friday, Jan. 20, was placed in the intensive care unit, although the patient did not require ICU care, because no regular rooms were available. Also on Friday, a male patient had to be admitted to the obstetrics department for lack of a room elsewhere.

"I'm sure Oconomowoc Memorial's administrators will report that the hospital is operating at about 60% capacity, but that doesn't tell the real story," Baker said. "As a community, we need to plan for peak periods, and Oconomowoc Memorial is forced to declare Emergency Bed Status often enough to indicate that there's a real problem here."

Aurora Health Care intends to build a 21st century medical center in the Town of Summit to meet the needs of Aurora patients and the fast-growing communities in western Waukesha County. Aurora's plans have been vigorously opposed by competitor ProHealth Care Inc., which operates Oconomowoc Memorial and wishes to preserve its hospital monopoly in the western half of Waukesha County.

ProHealth's leadership insists that there is adequate hospital bed capacity in the area. Oconomowoc Memorial's Emergency Bed Status tells a different story.

At Oconomowoc Memorial, Emergency Bed Status is one of the hospital's emergency codes, listed along with fires, bomb threats, child abductions, severe weather and disasters involving mass casualties. Each emergency is assigned a color. Emergency Bed Status is designated "Code Green," and green signs are posted in the hospital to alert doctors to the space crunch. To see an Emergency Bed Status sign, click here. To see the hospital's list of emergency codes, click here.

"The Wilkinson physicians have strongly supported Oconomowoc Memorial Hospital since it was founded more than 50 years ago, but I think the community has a right to know about the capacity problems that exist," Baker said. "The welfare of our patients is our priority, and always will be."

In the debate over hospital capacity in western Waukesha County, it also is important to understand that the majority of residents leave the area when they need hospital care. State data show that 57% of the residents of western Waukesha County travel elsewhere for hospital care. If more patients stayed in the area for care, the capacity problems that now exist would be far worse.

The new Aurora Medical Center will have 88 beds: 48 beds for medical-surgical patients, 12 intensive care beds, 12 beds for obstetrics, 8 pediatric beds and 8 rehabilitation beds. The new medical center also will have a state-of-the-art emergency department. The addition of the new hospital will ensure adequate hospital capacity to accommodate the rapid growth in the area.

"We continue our commitment to this project," said David Ulery, M.D., an Oconomowoc pediatrician and president of Aurora Wilkinson Medical Clinic. "Our 40,000 patients and the communities we serve deserve the very best care available."

Aurora Health Care is a not-for-profit Wisconsin health care provider and a nationally recognized leader in efforts to improve the quality of health care. Aurora offers services at sites in more than 90 communities throughout eastern Wisconsin.

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Contact: Jeff Squire (414-647-3408)

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