In the COVID-19 unit at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, every day is what nurse Deena Smith describes as “go, go, go constantly.”
As Michigan endures a coronavirus surge that outpaces any other state, medical staff are on their third round of being overwhelmed.
“I do feel like it’s been a little bit more hectic this time, just because it seems like we just have more people with this wave that are sicker,” Smith said. “It can also be that, you know, this is going into the third time that we’ve done this and we are exhausted, we are beat down.”
Hospitals were overwhelmed when the pandemic hit its first peak in April of 2020, then in December with a second wave of covid cases — and now they are overwhelmed again.
For Smith, who began nursing in January 2020, the last year has been a whirlwind, she said.
As of Tuesday, 82.17% of hospital beds across the state are occupied. Most recent data shows 4,209 adults and children are hospitalized as a result of COVID-19. This means coronavirus patients take up 21.79% of occupied beds.
As Michigan is in the midst of a surge, coronavirus cases severely tax health systems’ staff and resources, said Dr. Nick Gilpin, medical director of infection prevention for Beaumont Health in Southeast Michigan.
Beaumont hospitals have 800 COVID-19 patients across eight facilities, Gilpin said. While they have enough personal protective equipment, beds and ventilators, staffing is strained.
For Smith, 30, she isn’t just a nurse in a COVID unit, on her days off she is at home helping her daughter with virtual learning.
“That’s the same for a lot of my coworkers,” Smith said. “Our responsibility doesn’t end with just our job, we have to come home and basically work another job.”
Hospitals have had to adapt several times due to the pandemic. So in the face of another surge, they have new plans.
McLaren hospitals in the northern region of Michigan have created plans for how to handle large surges of coronavirus cases, but has not yet had to implement them, said Magen Samyn, regional vice president of marketing and business development for McLaren Bay, Caro and Thumb regions.
“There are times when based on daily admissions and discharges, we can approach kind of that higher level of capacity, but we have not reached the point where we’re not able to accommodate that,” Samyn said.
McLaren has not had to cancel or reschedule elective surgeries, however Beaumont has canceled elective surgeries on a case-by-case basis.
Beaumont Hospitals are between 90% and 95% capacity, however capacity issues are different than they were during the December surge, Gilpin said. There has been a large increase in non-COVID patients.
Hospitals are still seeing the after effects of delayed care from the pandemic shutdown, said Dr. Darryl Elmouchi, president of Spectrum Health West Michigan. This means more patients are in the hospital for reasons other than coronavirus infection.
“So, you know, people that might have come in earlier that aren’t, but it’s just busy,” Elmouchi said. “A lot of sick people, unfortunately.”
Another notable difference about this surge is the population. Hospitals are seeing younger patients than before, Elmouchi said. This is due to a majority of the older population being vaccinated, as well as more contagious COVID-19 variants.
When it comes to younger populations, Elmouchi said “they don’t realize because in the past they didn’t really get sick. Now, some of them are getting sick.”
While younger patients stay shorter periods and usually don’t need ventilators, they are still incredibly sick, Gilpin said. Beds are still filling up and straining staff.
A number of Beaumont staff have picked up extra shifts and reached out to external agencies to bring in more staff for vaccine clinics and other health systems, said Susan Grant, chief nursing officer.
Beaumont is also looking to move staff across the health system to help various units and floors, she said.
“But we need help. We need people doing their part to flatten this curve,” Grant said.
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