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Gundersen CEO warns about ‘worsening disaster’ amid COVID-19 pandemic

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Gundersen Health System 3

La Crosse, Wis. (WXOW) - The pressure has increased on local hospitals as COVID-19 cases surge in Wisconsin. Care teams are already battling a shrinking number of available beds and a worker shortage could be looming.

The leader of Gundersen Health System says they are busier than they've ever been with care providers working long, hard hours. And the pressure is increasing on those workers, as a growing number of their colleagues are forced to stay at home, quarantined by COVID-19.

Dr. Scott Rathgaber, CEO of Gundersen Health System, said that close to 500 employees are currently in quarantine. That total, given on November 11, amounts to around 4% or 5% of Gundersen's workforce. Combine that with increasing COVID-19 hospitalizations and very quickly, Rathgaber said, that could lead to serious decisions about rationing care. He wants people to realize this affects anyone seeking medical help, not just COVID patients.

"We need full participation," said Rathgaber. "Everyone has to believe that this is an emergency and work together to prevent a worsening disaster -- where your friends, your family members may be affected with unnecessary complications and even deaths -- if we do not pull together as a community."

Rathgaber anticipates more hospitalizations, which he says will decrease the ability to care for people who don't have the virus. "Who to care for, who gets the resources that they need to survive...those are extremely difficult decisions to make and ones we want to avoid. We are prepared to make them if we have to, but this is the time to act so we do not have to make these very difficult, tragic decisions."

To stop the spread of COVID-19 Rathgaber said that people in the region need to fully and immediately follow the guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19 which includes wearing a mask, staying socially distant and practicing good hand hygiene.

Rathgaber recently joined the regional vice president of Mayo Clinic Health System, Dr. Paul Mueller, to co-author a plea to the community to follow these safety measures.

Earlier in November, due to the significant community spread of COVID-19 and to ensure the health and safety of patients and staff, Gundersen also made changes to visitor guidelines at its hospital and clinics.

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Andrea Albers

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