Dr. Jeff Pothof, University of Wisconsin Health Chief Quality Officer, joined Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the surge of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and the overflow hospitals are seeing.
ADAM SHAPIRO: We want to bring into the stream Dr. Jeff Pothof. He's University of Wisconsin Health Chief Quality Officer. We appreciate your being here.
And I want to take this discussion to just where you are, kind of ground zero in Wisconsin because the governor there and the legislature have been at odds over the past several months. Where do you stand now? because there's movement perhaps for finally some unity.
JEFF POTHOF: Yeah, it sounds like Speaker Vos is interested in talking with Governor Evers. Certainly the health systems in the state would be more than happy to offer our suggestions on how Wisconsin could be more successful in managing the pandemic. So we're all hopeful that we get some movement because what we've done so far just isn't working for us. We're having a lot of problems.
ADAM SHAPIRO: Hey, Seana, that time of day.
SEANA SMITH: Sorry about that. I didn't realize I was on mute again. Dr. Pothof, just saying just what is the experience that you're personally seeing right now at your hospital? I know you said in the past that you were nearing capacity. Where does that stand?
JEFF POTHOF: Yeah, I mean, for reference back in March/April when we had our first surge, you know, we thought maybe we were going to skip these other surges. As of today, we have four times as many patients in our hospital than we ever did back in the spring. We're utilizing spaces that are far down on our contingency planning-- converting a neuro ICU into a COVID ICU instead of allowing that for patients that needed it for neurosurgery, using a little bit of our children's hospital to house adult patients. You know, we're really trying to pull out all our stop gaps to create capacity, to find staff, and every day we continue to break a new record for number of COVID patients that need our care.
ADAM SHAPIRO: How do you motivate medical staff? I mean, the news of vaccines is hopeful, but that's still far off, even though medical staff will get them first. How do you keep these men and women on the job and doing what is so crucial to so many of us?
JEFF POTHOF: Yeah, you know, this is a challenge. Any of us who say that we're, you know, ready to go in fresh, we're lying. We're burned out. We're tired. This has been hard, and we have asked more of our medical staff than we have any business of asking. But at the same time when I talk to people on the units, they realize that this is their time. This is our moment, and we know we're part of something that's much bigger than any one of us.
And despite having to work two, three shifts more than they should work, you know, working doubles, they are showing up. They are putting in the effort. I think what they're asking of people now is, you know, lay off a little bit on calling us heroes and the accolades. Instead, we want to see you masked. We want to see you distanced. We're struggling. We need your help.
SEANA SMITH: Doctor, what does this do, though, for the quality of care? Obviously doctors and nurses are working overtime. They're doing the best that they can, but at some point you would think it does start to affect the quality of care that's given.
JEFF POTHOF: Yeah, this is an important point because as we tell people that we're creating more capacity, I think it is easy to then assume that that new capacity that we create is as good a care as being in our special-pathogens unit with critical-care doctors that have been doing this for nine months, with nurses that know exactly what they're doing. Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is it's not.
You know, if you're coming into COVID-19 late in the game and you're being put in a unit that was basically makeshift, isn't really meant to take care of COVID-19 with staff who are working their third and fourth shift in a row, we're not going to have as good a quality outcomes. People are not going to do as well as if they had that top-tier care, that care that we want to provide to them.
ADAM SHAPIRO: And I'm curious and I think a lot of people are wondering, what happens to the people who used to present with the regulars, appendicitis or some other issue? Are they not getting treatment? Is there room for them?
JEFF POTHOF: Yeah, we talk about this every day multiple times, and it scares us to death. So so far, things that are truly emergent-- appendicitis, heart attack, stroke-- we've managed to keep that running. But we're looking at our schedules every day, and every day, really, anything that is not urgent, not emergent, it's getting postponed.
And if this continues, we're going to have more difficult decisions. That person who has cancer that should have their cancer removed, do we have to postpone that cancer, which may decrease their ability to survive that, to take care of a COVID patient? Or do we take out that cancer but then somebody that needs a ventilator or needs to be admitted for COVID can't be admitted? Those are discussions that never really happened in the United States before, but we're talking about it.
SEANA SMITH: Doctor, we were talking about some of the initiatives that states are now putting forward. We still haven't gotten direction from the federal level. What would you like to see implemented in your state? You mentioned the importance of mask wearing earlier in the interview, but what else do you think should be done right now when you're seeing the kind of numbers that Wisconsin has seen over the last couple of weeks?
JEFF POTHOF: Yeah, you know, I'll hear people ask, you know, what do we need as a health system? Do you need more ventilators? Do you need more PPE? What I need is less people to be getting COVID-19.
You know, to do that, masks are great. Social distancing is great. But I think what Wisconsin has proven is that leaving the decision to mask or distance up to each individual, we just don't get enough compliance to make that a successful strategy. So for the short term-- I don't think it needs to be for a long time-- we're going to need measures that are more restrictive that really cuts down on people gathering together, that really increases our ability to mask. We need those kind of measures because we can't keep seeing more patients with COVID-19 knocking on our door.
ADAM SHAPIRO: So do the people-- do the men and women who are part of the Wisconsin legislature, have they ever contacted you or other doctors to ask what should be done?
JEFF POTHOF: I'm not aware of them contacting us directly. Clearly that is something that we would welcome. You know, at this point, most of us in health care, we're not really too wrapped up in the politics of this. You know, that's their business, the policymakers. We want to protect the citizens of this state, and we're on a really bad trajectory. So if anyone wanted to work with the health-care systems, we would be happy to provide them the data, the evidence, what we're experiencing, give them any idea that we have of things that they might implement as policymakers to improve our situation.
SEANA SMITH: What are your thoughts on sports being played right now outside the professional leagues? When you take a look at colleges, a lot of fans are still allowed in stadiums, although it seems like that is changing over the last week or so. Is that smart to still be having these games being played at this point?
JEFF POTHOF: Yeah, we've been asked this question a lot, and I think some of the processes that are in place for the teams-- daily testing and things like that-- are not a bad effort, although clearly the Wisconsin Badgers, prime example, not foolproof.
The problem becomes both people that you would allow in the stands but even here in Wisconsin with no one in the stands, you know, game day is an occasion to gather. And we know that people are gathering in private residences. They're having parties. And that is going to throw gasoline on this fire. We're going to see more spreading events.
So I think, you know, as we think about events that we hold, whether they're sporting events or otherwise, we have to take responsibility for the downstream ramifications of people using that event to gather. We just can't have that happen right now.
ADAM SHAPIRO: I'm curious how your routine, your personal routine may have changed. There was a story not too long ago about a fireman who, when he comes home-- works in an ambulance, actually-- takes the boots off and the gear off in a separate part of the house to protect his family. What about you? What's different now as you go forward to protect yourself and people around you?
JEFF POTHOF: Yeah, you take more precautions. But, you know, quite frankly, I feel more safe actually in the emergency department, in our COVID units because we have PPE. People are masked, and we're not seeing transmission.
The thing that worries me more is actually my wife maybe going out to the store or me out in the community if I have to get something. So I take precautions when I come home from work, but it's pretty easy for me to take my shoes off, leave my scrubs in the landing. I worry more about what's happening in the community than what's happening in the hospital.
ADAM SHAPIRO: We appreciate your joining us today. Dr. Jeff Pothof is University of Wisconsin Health chief quality officer. All the best to you and the team at the medical center.
JEFF POTHOF: Thank you.