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$56 an hour in an empty hospital

Empower Wisconsin | April 28, 2020

MADISON — The alternative care facility at Wisconsin State Park’s Exposition Center reportedly hasn’t taken in a single COVID-19 patient, but the state and federal governments are paying a pretty penny to staff it, according to a nurse who interviewed for a position there.

The going rate, according to the Milwaukee-area nurse, is $56 an hour — nearly double the hourly rate of Milwaukee area BSNs. The source said it’s a significant wage “for a hospital that will be underutilized while my hospital (where the nurse currently works) has at least 60 dedicated open beds.”

“Yes, I signed up,” said the health care professional, who spoke to Empower Wisconsin on the condition of anonymity.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed the makeshift hospital within the confines of the exposition center in West Allis. It opened last week. State and local officials are working together to staff and fund the facility.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reportedly is contributing $24 million. FEMA money will pay for much of the staffing. The agency did not return Empower Wisconsin’s request for comment.

By April 7, FEMA had obligated more than $4 billion in support of COVID-19 efforts, including hundreds of millions of dollars for alternative medical care facilities.

It’s not clear how much money the state is putting in for the empty hospital.

As of Monday, there were 3,871 hospital beds immediately available around the state, about 34 percent of total beds, according the the state Department of Health Services.

Still, Gov. Tony Evers wants a second alternative care facility for coronavirus patients at Madison’s Alliant Energy Center — even as St. Louis-based SSM Health, owner of St. Mary’s Hospital and Dean Medical Group in Madison, announces furloughs for 2,000 of its employees. Dane County had reported a total of 339 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 12 people dying from the respiratory disease.

Evers and others have defended the temporary hospitals, describing them as insurance.

“Just as many people buy an insurance policy for their home hoping never to have to use it, that’s what we’re doing here,” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said earlier this month at a press briefing.

But some are wondering why taxpayers are paying for insurance on something that’s not needed.

“If people would just compare the fear and the hype machine that the media/government drum is beating versus facts. COVID deaths represent (a tiny fraction) of the total population of Wisconsin,” said the nurse who spoke to Empower Wisconsin.

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