UW Health is using virtual meeting technology to expand the use of eICU programs amidst a new wave of COVID-19, UW Health said Friday.

According to UW Health, rural hospitals throughout Wisconsin are facing difficulties as emergency rooms continue to reach capacity.

The eICU program, which began in 2008, is a virtual intense care unit where nurses and doctors provide care to patients at a UW Health office building. Care is provided at seven hospitals and eight ICUs across Wisconsin and northern Illinois 24 hours a day, Lynn Jacobs, a nursing supervisor at UW Health said.

“We’ve partnered with hospitals for many years now, and this program has allowed us to play a pivotal role during this terrible pandemic surge helping rural hospitals that are just not designed to handle this severity and volume of illness,” Jacobs said.

One of UW Health’s hospital partners, Aspirus Medford Hospital, has an ICU that has helped care for around 44 patients diagnosed with COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, UW Health said.

Jessica Faude, interim vice president of patient care services as Aspirus Hospital, said the eICU has been invaluable and has allowed for patients to remain close to home.

“The eICU has helped tremendously in our COVID care, especially this second go-round with the COVID surge where we are seeing a lot more severely sick patients, and a lot more patients who are a lot younger than we’ve cared for,” Faude said. “And the vast majority are unvaccinated.”

The eICU has helped care for about 1,300 COVID-19 ICU patients since the beginning of 2020, Jacobs said. In 2021, around 25% of the eICU admissions with a COVID-19 diagnosis have occurred in the last six weeks.

Read the full press release here