Coronavirus Could 'Magnify' Heathcare Workforce Supply Shortages

11 Mar 2020 10:54 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Wisconsin Health News, March 11, 2020 

An outbreak of coronavirus could worsen existing shortages of healthcare providers and supplies, panelists said Tuesday. The state also announced its third confirmed case of the illness in a Dane County resident. 

Ann Zenk, vice president of workforce and clinical practice at the Wisconsin Hospital Association, said that the coronavirus is likely to “magnify shortages” that providers already know exist in the workforce and supplies. 

“But this isn’t our first rodeo,” she said at a Wisconsin Health News event Tuesday. “We’re ready.” 

Hospitals, nursing homes and clinics are important partners in county and local emergency preparedness efforts, she said. She noted they practice their communication, supply chain and transportation year-round.

Michael Pochowski, Wisconsin Assisted Living Association CEO, said his members’ biggest concern is obtaining personal protective equipment. 

“They’re hearing from their medical suppliers that everything is being rationed right now,” he said. 

Lisa Pugh, executive director of The Arc Wisconsin, said a concern is getting good information out to the public and preventing panic among vulnerable populations. 

Department of Workforce Development Chief Economist Dennis Winters agreed that an outbreak could further increase workforce shortages. He added the economic effects aren’t known yet, although they’re projecting a turndown in economic activity. 

Wisconsin received $1 million in immediate federal assistance last week for the coronavirus. It’s also slated to receive more than $10 million in emergency funding approved by Congress and President Donald Trump last week.

Sen. Patrick Testin, R-Stevens Point, credited the Department of Health Services with informing lawmakers and the public on the virus. Wisconsin is at low risk right now, he said, and it’s incumbent on the people to wash their hands and limit contact if they’re ill. 

“As it stands right now, I think Wisconsin is well positioned to weather the storm,” he said. If that changes and there’s a need for lawmakers’ help, “the Legislature would answer the call,” he added. 

State health officials announced the third confirmed case of coronavirus in Wisconsin on Tuesday morning. The Dane County resident caught the illness while traveling in the U.S and is in isolation at home. The second case, announced Monday, is in Pierce County. 

Dane and Pierce counties are trying to determine who the patients had contact with and determine whether they should be tested and isolated to contain the illness.

“The news of new confirmed cases is not unexpected,” State Health Officer Jeanne Ayers told reporters on a press call. “We’ve been working with our laboratory partners over the past weeks to expand our ability to identify cases early. And we are expecting that as we expand our testing capacity, we will be able to identify any new cases as soon as they are present.”

Early identification of cases allows DHS and its partners to move quickly to isolate the patient and prevent the spread, she added.

She said Wisconsinites should use their best judgment when it comes to their spring travel plans. Those with pre-existing conditions like diabetes, lung disease and heart disease should be “very judicious in any non-essential travel.”

She said that they expect at some point Wisconsin will have broader spread.

Curtis Cunningham, assistant administrator of long-term care benefits and programs at the DHS Division of Medicaid Services, told members of the Long Term Care Advisory Council that they’ve formed work groups throughout the agency to focus on the virus.

He added that the department could pursue permission available in emergencies under Medicaid that would allow them to waive provider requirements and other Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services requirements and still get a federal match. 


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