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Gundersen, Mayo ask for help to reduce spread of COVID cases

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LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) - Both medical facilities in the La Crosse area join together to ask the public to do their part in reducing the spread of COVID-19 in the community.

Dr. Scott Rathgaber, CEO of Gundersen Health System, and Dr. Paul Mueller, Regional VP for Mayo Clinic Health System sent a letter out Thursday morning outlining their concerns about the virus.

At both Gundersen and Mayo Clinic hospitals in La Crosse, it's becoming a fight for space as the spike in COVID-19 continues to put stress on the system.

"That is causing us to find more beds and use up more space for those infections, and of course, when they're there, you can't house other patients next to them so we have to isolate them out into separate wards," said Rathgaber.

Dr. Rathgaber said they're seeing four to five times more people in their hospital than before October which has forced his team into their third contigency plan while considering a fourth. That next plan would move procedures for healthy patients to other clinics within the system.

"It would also include expanding the number of beds we have isolated for the COVID virus," said Rathgaber.

At Mayo Clinic in La Crosse, they are now in their first tier of surge planning.

"We've just moved staff around or we've reconfigured floors to accommodate more COVID patients, but otherwise operationally, we're doing okay, but we're again deeply concerned about the volumes of patients with COVID disease in the community," said Dr. Mueller.

As the situation inches toward another shutdown in normal care for patients, during the spring, the concern was about equipment, but now, it's about staffing.

"We want to protect them. We don't want them to get infected," said Dr. Mueller. "When they do get infected, it's in the community."

Community spread is often due to asymptomatic carriers which is why Dr. Mueller has one simple message.

"Assume that people you see in the community are positive."

Read the full text of the letter below.

RELATED: Coulee COVID-19 Collaborative

From Gundersen Health System and Mayo Clinic Health System:

Our region is in its greatest fight against coronavirus. We are seeing increased infections, hospitalizations and deaths in our communities. Our staff are strained. Our testing sites have longer lines and higher positivity rates.

We were able to flatten the curve and avoid tragedy last spring and summer with your help. By masking, distancing, and hand washing, we protected each other, limited the spread of the virus, and saved lives.

For a variety of reasons, we lost ground. To keep our friends and families healthy and ease the strain on our hospitals, we must rededicate ourselves to following established, proven safety measures. We have done it before. We can do it again.

While it is encouraging to see many of our neighbors and businesses adhering to the safety guidelines, it is greatly disappointing to see those who are not.

Local health systems remain open and safe for care of all types, but the rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations threaten our ability to care for you.

If everyone DOES NOT avoid large gatherings in the community, wear a mask, keep distance from others, wash hands, and stay home when ill, we risk:

  • Postponing or cancelling surgeries, procedures and appointments
  • Running out of beds to care for people who need immediate Hospital care
  • Not having enough staff to provide care to patients, COVID and non-COVID
  • Preventable deaths in our communities

This has been a long and hard several months. We know the end is not yet in sight. We know you are tired and want to resume a normal life. We are tired, too.

Now is not the time to let our guard down and suffer the fate of so many other communities across the state and nation. We have shown that we care enough about each other to work together to defeat this pandemic.

Your actions make a difference. Together, we will succeed.

Scott Rathgaber, MD
Chief Executive Officer
Gundersen Health System

Paul Mueller, MD
Regional Vice President
Mayo Clinic Health System

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