'Really heartbreaking:' Waves of Covid patients create no-vacancy status at some Michigan hospitals

November 27, 2021, 10:56 AM

Covid-related hospitalizations and ICU occupancy here exceed the national average on a per-capita basis. (Graphic: The Washington Post)

Here's a stark reality of Michigan healthcare 20 months into the age of Covid-19: Some hospitals can't admit more patients.

It's "a dangerous and potentially deadly level of overcrowding as the state’s health system is strained by a fourth surge," says a Michigan Radio roundup.

At least eight hospitals are 100% full, according to the latest state data.

West Michigan’s largest hospital system, Spectrum Health, has reached a system-record number of patients in both its hospitals and its ICUs.

Dr. Darryl Elmouchi: "You don't get the care that you otherwise would have." (Photo: Spectrum Health)

Statewide, 4,080 adults and 58 pediatric patients were hospitalized on Thanksgiving Eve with pandemic diagnoses or symptoms -- a jump of nearly 200 since Monday.

Dr. Darryl Elmouchi, president of Spectrum, tells Michigan Radio on Friday that his 14-hospital network typically accepts 50 transfer patients each day from smaller facilities and rural emergency rooms.

"We'll get phone calls saying we’re the 15th hospital they’ve called, and can we please help? And very often right now, the answer is no," he said. "Because we have to take care of those people in front of us before we can take care of people that are coming from a distance. And that's really heartbreaking, and it's hard. ...

"You could be at a hospital in the U.P. and not have someone to accept you at a bigger, more capable health system right now because of this. ... You can get in a car accident, you can have a heart attack, and you don't get the care that you otherwise would have at the right time."

The regional group based in Grand Rapids upgraded its capacity status to Level Red on Nov. 18 for the first time since the pandemic began. "We don't have a darker color,” Elmouchi told The Washington Post. "So if we're red now, what are we in two weeks?" 

This coming week, Spectrum bolsters its staff with 44 federal doctors, nurses, doctors and respiratory therapists sent to help for a month. Beaumont Hospital in Dearborn also gets a team of that size. 

In Ann Arbor and Howell, St. Joseph Mercy hospitals are among those that can't admit more intensive care patients.

"[We] have been managing day-to-day ICU operations either at capacity or above standard capacity throughout much of November,” Dr. David Vandenberg, Chief Medical Officer at St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor and St. Joseph Mercy Livingston, said in a statement.

"The unrelenting volume of Covid-19 patients with advanced illness makes managing their care very difficult on our medical teams."

(Graphic: Munson Healthcare)

Munson Healthcare, a Traverse City-based system with nine hospitals, has been at "Pandemic Level Red Status" for nearly three weeks. It has paused some services, reduced clinic hours and delays non-urgent surgeries "to shift staff and resources to where they are needed most," Dr. Christine Nefcy, chief medical officer, announced Nov. 9.

Kate Wells, reporting for the Ann Arbor-based public radio group, adds this ominous context:

Overcrowding at these levels isn’t just inconvenient. It can kill people.

Once hospitals hit 75% ICU capacity, more patients die for medically-preventable reasons, according to a CDC study published last week.


Over 4,100 Covid Patients Spend Thanksgiving in Michigan Hospitals; 843 Are in ICUs

Read more:  Michigan Radio

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