WED AM News: Michigan hospital joining Marshfield Clinic Health System; COVID-19 vaccination provides better protection than infection-based immunity, expert says

— Michigan-based Dickinson County Healthcare will be joining Marshfield Clinic Health System next year, expanding the health system’s reach outside of the state. 

“We are excited to extend care for the first time beyond the borders of Wisconsin,” said Dr. Susan Turney, CEO for MCHS, in a statement. “Together, we will define the future of rural health care, and create a regional hub for care in the Upper Peninsula.”

The two organizations have signed a letter of intent in preparation for creating a definitive affiliation agreement, which is expected to be finalized by the end of the year. 

By joining the Marshfield-based health system, Dickinson County Healthcare will add more primary care and specialty care providers, “widen our scope of services and improve our care environments across all our locations,” according to Chuck Nelson, the hospital’s CEO. 

Dickinson County Healthcare is located in Iron Mountain, just over the state’s northern border in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The 49-bed medical and surgical hospital currently provides care in the peninsula’s central region and northern Wisconsin. It also has primary care clinics in Wisconsin’s Florence County and elsewhere in Michigan. 

In the release, Turney highlights the importance of expanding access to care options for rural areas. Much of the health system’s service area covers rural communities, which typically consist of older residents with greater health challenges. 

“Many patients across rural America have little or no access to public transit and drive an hour or more for even routine care. In Michigan and Wisconsin, that means long distances on icy winter roads,” Turney said. “Our integrated model allows us to deliver the full continuum of health care and services in small, rural communities.” 

See the release: 

See more from Turney on rural care in a recent story: 

— People vaccinated against COVID-19 are better protected than those who have post-infection immunity, according to UW Health Chief Quality Officer Dr. Jeff Pothof. 

“It’s also important for people to know that if you were infected more than 90 days ago, your immunity is decreasing at this point and you may be at risk for re-infection,” Pothof said in a release. 

Citing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UW Health says about a third of people infected with COVID-19 don’t have an immune response. That means the risk of severe illness and death from the virus “far outweighs any benefits” of immunity gained after infection, a release shows. 

A study from the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report found infection-based antibody response decreased after 60 days for about 94 percent of health care workers who recovered from a COVID-19 infection. And previously infected people who aren’t vaccinated are “more than twice as likely” to be reinfected than those who were fully vaccinated after contracting and recovering from COVID-19, CDC findings show. 

Pothof notes that COVID-19 vaccines “produce reliable, highly effective and more durable immunity” than infection-based immunity. 

As of yesterday, 57.2 percent of the state’s population have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 54.4 percent have completed the vaccine series. On the national level, 65.3 percent of the U.S. population have gotten at least one dose and 56.4 percent are fully vaccinated, according to CDC figures. 

See the latest state vaccination numbers here: 

— Medical College of Wisconsin President Dr. John Raymond says the surge in COVID-19 cases caused by the delta variant has “probably” peaked in Wisconsin, though he said upcoming data will shed more light on the situation. 

During a webinar hosted yesterday by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, Raymond highlighted a number of data points suggesting the state “may be at an inflection point.” 

He noted the state’s seven-day average for new COVID-19 cases is flattening and “has declined slightly” in recent weeks. Related hospitalizations are rising, though much more slowly than in September, he said. 

The latest seven-day average of new cases was 2,403, the Department of Health Services site shows. And the Wisconsin Hospital Association dashboard shows 1,179 patients are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, including 317 ICU patients. 

While improvements are being seen over the past month throughout much of the state, he said the “burden of disease remains very high” in Wisconsin. 

“So even if we’ve hit a shoulder and we can anticipate declines in the coming weeks, we still need to practice mitigation measures,” he said. 

Meanwhile, the state’s supply of rapid tests is running low, and Raymond said it’s “possible this could be altering the new cases” being reported.  

“I personally don’t believe that’s going to affect trajectory in a significant way, but it is a factor that we should note,” he said. “Also our test positivity rate remains high, so it is possible that we are underestimating the burden of COVID-19 cases in our communities.” 

Even if the state has moved past the peak of the ongoing surge, Raymond said “we can anticipate a relatively slow decline” in case activity based on analysis of other states “that had larger surges than we did and had them a little earlier than we did.” 

Texas, Arkansas and Missouri are showing declines, but he said “it looks like it’s going to take another two months or so” for them to return to the pre-surge baseline. That decline could be hampered by the return of cold weather, schools resuming in-person learning and the upcoming holidays, he added. 

“Those are some factors that might actually slow down the positive or favorable trend of decline of cases in those states,” he said. 

Raymond and fellow state health leaders will discuss lessons learned from the ongoing pandemic during a virtual luncheon today. 

The event will feature: Raymond, of the Medical College of Wisconsin; Dr. Susan Turney, CEO of Marshfield Clinic Health System; Chris Woleske, president and CEO of Bellin Health; and Karen Timberlake, secretary-designee of the Department of Health Services. 

Register for the event here: 

See the latest case numbers here: 

— A recent report from the National Federation of Independent Business shows 51 percent of surveyed small business owners are unable to fill job openings, underscoring the persistent workforce shortage. 

Bill Smith, NFIB state director in Wisconsin, says the latest survey results show record-high numbers of small business owners are struggling to hire workers. Optimism among respondents has dropped to the “lowest reading” since 2012, he said in a release.

“Labor shortages and supply issues continue to challenge Main Street businesses here in Wisconsin,” Smith said. “Unfortunately, the challenge for small business owners is that the economy is breaking records in the wrong direction.” 

See more results from the national survey here: 

— The latest USDA crop report shows harvesting of soybeans and grain corn is proceeding ahead of the five-year average. 

The report, covering the week ending Oct. 10, shows harvesting of grain corn was 24 percent complete, which is six days ahead of last year and 11 days ahead of the average. And the soybean harvest was 47 percent complete — two days ahead of last year and eight days ahead of the average. 

Meanwhile, harvesting of potatoes was lagging slightly at 82 percent complete, which is four days behind last year’s rate. 

Pasture conditions appear to be improving slightly, the report shows. And soil moisture levels have shown continued improvement over the past several months. 

See the report: 

— More than 130 businesses in the state closed their doors Monday as part of the Day Without Latinxs and Immigrants, according to a release from the advocacy group Voces de la Frontera. 

The organization says an estimated 4,000 workers and over 200 students in the state also participated in the statewide event, aimed at highlighting the importance of immigrants to the economy. 

Castillo Landscaping owner Ramiro Castillo said in a statement that he closed his business on Monday “to show that we are the workforce that sustains the economy.” Castillo is an immigrant small business owner based in Waukesha. 

“Politicians have been promising to pass immigration reform with a path to citizenship for decades, and it’s time that we show them our economic power,” he said. 

Voces de la Frontera is urging political leaders to take action to “provide a path to citizenship” for millions of immigrants. 

“We refuse to allow history to repeat itself and have another presidential administration’s promise to immigrant families go unfulfilled,” said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, the group’s executive director. 

See the list of businesses that closed for the statewide strike on Monday: 

See the release: 

— Johnson Financial Group has announced plans to donate $500,000 to United Way organizations across the state. 

Doug Nelson, the company’s regional president for Madison, says the donation will contribute to United Way of Dane County’s Housing in Action initiative. This program aims to support “family stability” through reducing evictions and homelessness, as well as improving food access. 

“This initiative is closely aligned to our corporate wide focus of providing assistance in the critical areas of education, food security, homelessness and health,” Nelson said in a release.  

The funding will be provided in addition to dollar-for-dollar matching for employee donations. 

See more: 


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<i>See these and other press releases: </i>

Marshfield Clinic Health System: Dickinson County Health System signs letter of intent to join MCHS

NFIB: Over half of small businesses have job openings they can’t fill

Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce: Madison named 2021 best place to live by