GUEST COLUMN: RAMC pleads for help amid pandemic

By: 
Bob Van Meeteren

Bob Van Meeteren. (Submitted photo)

Little did I know that two years into this pandemic I would be sending this urgent plea. We need the support of everyone to reach the other side of these unprecedented times. My message at the recent Reedsburg School District’s board meeting Monday evening, Dec. 20, was recorded and has been widely shared. At this meeting I asked to give an update on local health care. It has been requested to share the details, and more. I am more than happy to do so.

• Since late November, 2021 (and many times before), RAMC has been at or near full capacity. On any given day we may have one available bed. A busy day in our emergency room, which is most days, can tip us over the top.

• The number of COVID positive patients has been rising like never before. Wisconsin has doubled its confirmed cases in the past two months. And the highly contagious Omicron has arrived. Delta is still here. What’s next? Did I mention the flu is rearing its unwelcome head now too?

• We have not been able to transfer our sickest patients for months. Where it used to take one to three calls to other facilities, we are now finding ourselves calling three to four states to attempt to make these transfers. Imagine your loved one having to be transferred hundreds or more, miles away? Yes, it has happened.

• We have regularly postponed surgical cases that will require patients to spend at least one overnight in our facility because we do not have beds available. We have delayed and limited elective surgical cases to make sure we have beds and staff for our most ill patients.

• Last week was our worst yet. We had more patients than beds including having six patients in our four bed ICU with more patients needing to be admitted through our emergency room. We canceled all surgical cases to redirect extra staff to care for our inpatients. We moved essential services like infusions, including monoclonal antibody treatment, to free up space to add more beds. We called in extra staff who have already been stretched and pulled for months. We ran out of respiratory equipment including lifesaving ventilators (thank goodness we were able to get more from our ambulance service!). Our hearts were heavy as we proactively began scoring our patients per our Scarce Resource Policy to see who would have the least chance of survival in the event we needed to convene our medical staff to choose who would and would not get scarce lifesaving equipment.

• The scariest thing for us is if any of our team members get COVID. This takes them out of the workforce for 10 to 14 days. We cannot afford to lose any team member. Not a single one. I have been asked before about mandatory testing and vaccination of team members. RAMC follows all necessary guidance and always has and continues to be, compliant with the regulations set forth from CMC (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services).

The Department of Health Services has issued a public health advisory calling on all Wisconsinites to take urgent action to prevent additional hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19. This advisory is urging everyone to take the following actions immediately to slow the spread of the Omicron variant:

--Get vaccinated against COVID-19 including getting a booster dose as soon as you are eligible. RAMC has special clinics for COVID-19 vaccines and boosters as well as flu shots and these are also available at RAMC’s Community (located inside RAMC Physicians Group) and Viking Pharmacy (located inside Viking Village Foods). Visit our website for more information – ramchealth.com.

--Wear a well-fitted mask in indoor spaces when you are with people that you do not live with and celebrate safely by keeping gatherings small, getting tested before visiting others and staying home if you have any symptoms. Please renew your commitment to protect yourself and others.

--Use hand hygiene techniques, clean frequently used surfaces, keep six feet of social distancing.

You know the drill. We’ve been at this for two years – we so know the drill. We just need to do it, consistently. Steadfastly.

We know that in the beginning of this pandemic and I suspect now, many put off their important healthcare and patients are coming in sicker than ever before. Please seek wellness care. Take your medicine as prescribed. If you are not vaccinated against the flu or COVID-19, please do so. In short, stay well.

I could go on and on and on (I did already, I know, so thank you for bearing with me). This is real. We need every single “hand on deck” today or 2022 will be a repeat of 2020 and 2021. Like every hospital large, small and in between, we are sending this same message. This truly CAN be PREVENTED.

One more thing. To every member of our RAMC team, THANK YOU. You are the most courageous, resilient, respected, admired and honorable professionals I know. Your steadfast efforts to tirelessly care for our patients and community is known, seen, appreciated. You are applauded.

 Bob Van Meeteren is chief executive officer and president of Reedsburg Area Medical Center.