UW hospital backlog ‘worst that I have seen’

    view of UW hospital across Lake Mendota
    UW Health University Hospital, the UW–Madison Health Sciences Learning Center, and the Wisconsin Institutes for Medical Research in Madison, Wisconsin (photo by Av9, Wikimedia)

    A surge in people needing inpatient treatment at UW Health University Hospital in Madison last week led to a backlog. As many as 25 patients had to wait in the hospital’s emergency department before they could be admitted to hospital inpatient units where they were treated.

    The backlog “was the worst that I have seen,” said a health care professional who asked not to be identified. “A delay in transfer can result in compromised care, unsafe conditions and a lot of patient discomfort.”

    The health care provider said 25 people were held in the ER waiting to be admitted to the hospital unit they were assigned to for treatment.

    Lisa Brunette, the hospital’s director of media relations, said the number “sounded about right” and was the largest such backlog she could recall in her decade working for UW Health.

    The hospital, at 600 Highland Ave., “is very busy and very full most of the time,” Brunette told Wisconsin Examiner. “We have been saying for years that we need to expand our capacity.”

    University Hospital has been managing its heavy caseload by moving patients whose condition is considered less acute to UW Health at the American Center, on the city’s far east side, and to UnityPoint Health Meriter, with which UW Health has a joint operating agreement, Brunette said.

    Doing so “helps get each person timely care as well as making sure that University Hospital can accommodate the patients with the greatest medical needs,” the hospital said in a statement released to Wisconsin Examiner

    Delays of the sort that spiked last week are a side effect of University Hospital’s decision to focus on patients with the most serious conditions. 

    In January, the UW Hospital closed a 29-bed medical unit known as D4/4 to be remodeled into a neurosurgery unit with fewer beds. 

    Since that closure the main UW hospital has been almost always completely full, with patients waiting for beds in the emergency room or transferred from outside hospitals, according to the anonymous health professional.

    Brunette disagreed with that description. “This influx of people was very unusual,” she said of the backlog that developed last Wednesday and Thursday. She estimated that spikes of that sort occur perhaps four times a year. 

    While the closure of D4/4 did take 29 inpatient beds out of use, the conversion of the unit to neurosurgery reflected UW Health’s plan for University Hospital to concentrate on treating “the most highly acute” patients, Brunette said. In that transition, “we need to go through a process of decompression.”

    Senior Reporter Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, along with related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.


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