Michigan’s top health officials are concerned about hospitals becoming overwhelmed again as the COVID-19 numbers across the state reach new levels.
Early in the-19 pandemic, one of the major problems for Michigan was hospital capacity, as COVID-19 patients filled beds and the state was forced to set up alternate sites.
One of the greatest concerns now, as opposed to in the spring, is that the widespread nature of the virus could make it difficult for hospitals to transfer patients if the don’t have enough space.
“That’s one of the general concerns,” said Wright Lassiter, president and CEO of Henry Ford Health System. “Because we’re seeing significant hospitalization across the entire state, it gives us great concern that if the case escalation continues on this same pace for significantly longer, you will have every hospital getting to its capacity and having to make decisions about slowing down and/or discontinuing some kinds of basic care to care for COVID-19 patients.”
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In the spring, Michigan hospitals had to shut down elective surgeries and rely on the government to set up field hospitals due to the number of people infected with COVID-19 who needed professional care.
“We were at our breaking point,” Lassiter said. “We’re all hopeful that we won’t get there again, and we’re all hopeful that that won’t be a need, but that is a scenario that could play out if there isn’t a change in behavior, and thus, a reduction in the escalation of cases that we see across all parts of the state.”
Ed Ness, president and CEO of Munson Healthcare, said one difference between now and the spring is that capacity issues are in all communities, including rural areas with fewer safety valves.
“It is a concern, given the widespread nature of the surges,” Ness said.
“I would say that we’ve learned a lot from the time period that we’ve been working with COVID-19, and so we do know the measures that we are taking to expand in our current facilities to make sure we can take care of patients inside our own four walls,” said Tina Freese Decker, president and CEO of Spectrum Health.
Decker said another concern is staff members who 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.”