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COVID-19 exhaustion at Michigan hospitals: ‘We got through first surge on adrenaline, now it’s a marathon’

Beaumont Health CEO says Michigan has to be wary of potential health care worker exhaustion

A health care worker puts on personal protective equipment before tending to COVID-19 patients at an intensive care unit. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)
A health care worker puts on personal protective equipment before tending to COVID-19 patients at an intensive care unit. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Michigan hospital leaders are worried about health care workers becoming exhausted by eight months of battling COVID-19 as hospitals start to fill up with patients once again.

As state officials announce 6,000 new COVID-19 cases daily in Michigan, hospitalizations are starting to trend in wrong direction. During a virtual discussion with the presidents and CEOS of major Michigan health systems, the most pressing concern isn’t space, but staff availability.

The leaders of Beaumont Health, Henry Ford Health System, Spectrum Health and Munson Healthcare said repeatedly during the 68-minute conversation that staffing concerns are at the top of their lists as COVID-19 hospitalizations rise.

“We really got through that first surge with a lot of adrenaline, and this pandemic has now turned into a marathon,” said John Fox, president and CEO of Beaumont Health. “In terms of the amount of energy we’ve got, with our own staff, our frontline caregivers, to manage through this, we’ve got to be very careful with them and very respectful of their potential for exhaustion around this.”

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Tina Freese Decker, president and CEO of Spectrum Health, said staff members have been fighting COVID-19 for the better part of eight months.

“Our team -- they’ve been dealing with this for a very long time, so they are tired,” Decker said. “They’re doing an exceptional job right now, but we also know that they may be getting sick.”

She said it’s critical to keep health care workers safe from the virus because as hospitalizations continue to rise in Michigan, the shortage might not be beds, but doctors and nurses.

“It may not be access to a facility need, it may actually be staffing,” Decker said. “When all of us have the need, that will be the critical resource that we’ll be looking for.”

Brian Peters, the CEO of the Michigan Heath and Hospital Association, said staffing has risen to the top of the list of concerns.

“It’s not necessarily an issue of a lack of hospital beds,” Peters said. “It truly is a very concerning issue when you talk about availability of staff -- particularly frontline caregivers are testing positive themselves. So that has clearly been our top concern.”

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