La Crosse, Tomah healthcare leaders adapt to ever changing year

Three Coulee Region healthcare systems describe experiences and lessons learned from year with largest demand in health service
Local Healthcare 2020

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – This year tested healthcare professionals in the La Crosse region. Officials at Coulee Region healthcare systems had to rethink how to care for their patients.

“What a year it’s been,” Tracy Myhre said.

People don’t need an explanation of 2020.

“I sent a note to a colleague and I said, ‘We didn’t see this coming did we?'” Dr. Michael Dolan said.

This is a conversation of three Coulee Region healthcare systems about the lessons taught by the pandemic. Myhre, Tomah Health’s chief nursing officer said organization is vital.

“I think the importance of planning is something that has really kind of came to the top of the chain this year,” Myhre said.

Tomah Health lacks a critical care unit for severely sick patients. Tomah health staff worked with La Crosse healthcare systems that have ICUs.

“We really worked as a region to really determine what types of patients should stay here and what types of patients do we need to send there,” she said.

Dolan is Gundersen Health System’s executive vice president. He learned how fast things can change, such as the surge in daily hospitalizations in the fall.

“We had to take entire wings and units entirely off-line and kind of create miniature ICUs in those units to be able to provide the care to those patients,” Dolan said.

Staff at all healthcare systems experienced the pressure COVID-19 pressed on their workflow. Mayo Clinic Health System’s Dr. Paul Mueller said they were able to move people around to relieve that pressure.

“Keeping up to date in skill sets and being flexible, and that’s an expectation of being part of organizations is one approach to doing that,” Mueller said.

He said a person’s ability to adapt to multiple environments is a skill students preparing for a career in health care should learn.

“That was a better situation to be in rather than only with staff who had a confined set of skills and couldn’t be flexible in where they work,” Mueller said.

The popular consensus of the conversation revolves around consistent, clear messaging. Something Dolan said can be better.

“Too many people felt that this was a two to three-month blip on the radar and then they would be able to get back to their normal life,” Dolan said. “I think from the beginning most of us knew that we would be dealing with this for one to two years.”

The pandemic also refreshed these front-line workers’ memory. There isn’t a better career calling in the world for them.

“I really do love it. I think we do make a difference,” Myhre said. “That’s why I wanted to be a nurse.”

Telehealth and virtual medicine is something healthcare leaders say is here to stay. Mayo Clinic Health System actually planned to contribute more resources to virtual health and telehealth. The pandemic forced the health system to move those plans into place sooner. They say patients who use it love the convenience of appointments at home.

Healthcare leaders say the community can learn from this year as well. The surge in cases and hospitalizations was largely due to people disregarding healthcare guidelines and gathering in large groups.