COVID-19: Alternate Care Facility at State Fair Park

Aerial view of rows of cube-like temporary patient care spaces at the Alternate Care Facility at State Fair Park

As part of Wisconsin’s statewide COVID-19 response and in order to ensure hospitals have adequate capacity, the Alternate Care Facility at Wisconsin State Fair Park has been activated. On October 14, the facility opened to serve as an overflow facility for hospitals across the state. 

The alternate care facility provides an alternative to a continued stay in a traditional hospital. The main purpose is to support COVID-19 patients that are not severely ill but still require continued medical support after hospitalization or an admission to a hospitals’ Emergency Department. The facility is staffed with qualified clinical professionals that will monitor patients until they are healthy enough to return home. By safely transferring patients to this facility after their traditional hospital stay, Wisconsin will be better able to maximize bed capacity for patients that require more significant levels of care while reducing strain on the state’s health systems during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Number of current patients

We will be reporting the current number of patients cared for at the alternative care facility every day at 2 p.m. This represents the number of patients being cared for as of 11 a.m. that day.

Date Number of current patients
October 24, 2020 3
October 23, 2020 2
October 22, 2020 1
October 21, 2020 1
October 14-20, 2020 0

Frequently asked questions

Read the frequently asked questions below to learn more about how patients will be cared for at the alternate care facility, how it operates, and why Wisconsin has an alternate care facility.

Patient care

How many staff will be operating the facility?

The alternate care facility will follow traditional best practices for staffing ratios of a medical surge facility: approximately one registered nurse and one patient care associate to six patients.

How many patient beds are at the facility?

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed 530 patient spaces, of which 296 include in-line oxygen. Should expansion be needed, the facility can accommodate 754 total patient spaces.

What is the acuity level of the facility?

The alternate care facility is a low-acuity facility, which means that the patients served have minimal care requirements but still need some health monitoring and support before being discharged.

Are patients at the alternate care facility allowed to have visitors?

To limit the spread of COVID-19, visitors are prohibited at the alternate care facility.

How are patients referred to the facility?

  • The alternate care facility does not directly accept walk-ins from members of the general public.
  • The alternate care facility's chief medical officer works directly with eligible acute care hospitals and hospitals’ Emergency Departments, before a patient is accepted to the alternate care facility, to ensure the patient's needs match the level of care provided at the alternate care facility.
  • Additionally, patients utilizing the alternate care facility are individuals who have been a patient in an eligible hospital or other acute care entity prior to being transferred to the facility.

How does the alternate care facility intersect with the isolation facilities in the Milwaukee area?

The alternate care facility is part of the continuum of care being provided to residents in response to the spread of COVID-19. The alternate care facility provides service to individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 and are already a patient within a health system.

What happens if an alternate care facility patient requires a higher-level of patient care, once they get to the facility?

Should an individual’s health decline and require emergency care while at the alternate care facility, the individual will be transferred to the nearest hospital.

If a patient has a concern about a member of the alternate care facility staff and/or their care, whom do they contact?

The needs of the patients and their health care is the priority for alternate care facility leadership and staff. Should an individual have concerns, patients are encouraged to contact the nursing directors on duty, the chief nursing officer, or the facility’s chief executive officer.

How will patients from around the state be physically transferred to the alternate care facility?

Alternate care facility leaders will work in partnership with Wisconsin health systems to identify the safest and most efficient transport of individual patients to the facility.

Facility operations

Who oversees and is responsible for the operations at the alternate care facility?

The State of Wisconsin’s Department of Administration operates the alternate care facility, as directed by the Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services in Emergency Order #32.

How many individuals does the alternate care facility employ?

The number of individuals working at the facility will continue to be dependent upon the needs of the patients at the facility. Facility staff includes physicians, registered nurses, respiratory therapists, social workers, and patient care assistants.

What do I do if I am interested in volunteering or working at the alternate care facility

Individuals (medical or nonmedical) interested in volunteering and/or working at the Alternate Care Facility at Wisconsin State Fair Park, are encouraged to register on the Wisconsin Emergency Assistance Volunteer Registry (WEAVR) and select “Milwaukee Alternate Care Site” under the “Statewide COVID-19 Responders” drop-down.

What is being done to ensure the health of the staff within the alternate care facility?

There are extensive processes in place to ensure all staff within the facility are provided resources and opportunities to maintain a sanitary and healthy work environment. This includes providing staff at the facility an appropriate supply of PPE, handwashing stations, a process for temperature checks, access to an Employee Assistance Program, and testing or follow-up care as needed.

What is being done to ensure the security and health of the communities surrounding the alternate care facility?

There are extensive security and sanitizing efforts, along with infection disease protocols in place, to limit the exposure of COVID-19 to the surrounding areas from individuals located within the alternate care facility.

Background on the alternate care facility

Why was the alternate care facility needed in southeastern Wisconsin?

In the spring, Southeastern Wisconsin was one area of the state that was heavily impacted by COVID-19, including the counties of Milwaukee, Waukesha, Racine, Kenosha, Washington, and Ozaukee. The impact on these counties include not only increased levels of individuals testing positive for COVID-19, but also elevated hospitalization utilization, and deaths as a result of the disease. Milwaukee County had multiple medical, epidemiology, and future operations teams comprised of all local municipalities that identified projections requiring alternate care facility infrastructure to meet the estimated surge capacity projections. These partners remain responsible for its completion, including the Milwaukee County Executive, local mayors, Milwaukee Commissioner of Health, Milwaukee County Medical Director, the Intergovernmental Cooperation Council, Milwaukee County Emergency Management, and others. While the facility was never needed for patients over the spring and summer of 2020, rising hospitalization rates across the state in the fall have led to its opening.

What was the process to engage the U.S.  Army Corps of Engineers to construct the Alternate Care Facility at Wisconsin State Fair Park?

  • Local leaders in the Milwaukee area notified Governor Evers that they had significant concerns regarding the surge capacity of the region’s health systems in the face of the spread of COVID-19. These leaders represented both local elected officials and local health systems.
  • Additionally, Milwaukee County formally submitted a request to the Wisconsin Emergency Management team to build an alternate care facility due to the predicted escalation in COVID-19 cases and pressure on the area’s health systems.
  • This request was then sent to FEMA, formally requesting support from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to design, engineer, and construct the facility as a temporary Alternate Care Facility. With direction from and in coordination with FEMA and the federal Department of Health and Human Services, USACE constructed the functional requirements for the alternate care facility to function as a temporary accommodation for individuals needing care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why was State Fair Park chosen as the location for this alternate care facility?

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers identifies existing locations that have several critical elements, which include things like ease of access, abundant parking, and proximity to health systems.

Who participated in the construction of the alternate care facility?

To construct the alternate care facility, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, carrying out their assignment, signed a contract with Gilbane Milwaukee along with several local subcontractors, including:

  • Johnson Controls
  • J.F. Ahern
  • Hetzel Sanfillipo
  • HGA
  • Staff Electric
  • Langer Roofing
  • Derse
  • Occupational Healthcare Associates

How is operation of the facility being funded?

Funding for the alternate care facility will come from the $445 million surge reserve fund set aside by Gov. Evers to ensure the ability of Wisconsin hospital systems and communities to handle a surge of COVID-19 cases. The state’s testing needs are anticipated to exceed the original $260 million budget by up to an additional $270 million, which is also being covered by the reserve fund. These response programs are funded with the federal CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund, which only allows activities to be funded through the end of 2020.

Why did the facility not have patients up until now?

This facility has been part of a statewide, ongoing continuum of care for individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19. Although there has been significant work done to limit extreme capacity surges for Wisconsin’s health systems, the recent and rapid increase in virus spread throughout the state is now overwhelming some health systems.

Facility use and decommissioning

How is it decided to decommission and/or use the alternate care facility?

The end of the pandemic is not currently known, and there are currently no plans to re-purpose or decommission the facility. The following organizations/individuals will be regularly reviewing data and health care system needs (both regionally and statewide):

  • Department of Health Services
  • Department of Administration
  • Alternate Care Facility Leadership Team
  • Other local and state health officials identified by the above mentioned

The Department of Administration is physically responsible for the process of decommissioning the site, which means bringing everything back to its original state for Wisconsin State Fair Park, including complete sanitation of the facility. Once a decision is made by the groups identified above, the Department of Administration will coordinate decommissioning efforts.

Last Revised: October 24, 2020