MUSKEGON — Mercy Health Muskegon has received emergency state approval to add 37 beds to handle high patient volumes amid the current COVID-19 surge.
The 331-bed hospital in Muskegon this morning operated at 101 percent capacity with more than 70 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 or its lingering effects, said Dr. Justin Grill, chief medical officer at Mercy Health Muskegon.
The rise is COVID cases involving patients who often require lengthy hospital stays, plus an influx of patients who previously delayed seeking treatment and are now coming in for care for a worsening medical condition, drove the need to seek emergency state approval for more temporary beds, Grill said.
“We are routinely running at 100 percent capacity — and right now we’re at over 100 percent of our usual capacity — and that has really created a need for us to add additional clinical space,” he told MiBiz today.
The additional beds at Mercy Health Muskegon’s Sherman Boulevard campus will go into operation “as we work through the details of exactly what this looks like,” Grill said.
“We want to make sure we’re still providing safe and high-quality care, of course,” he said. “I would assume we will probably, in the coming days, work to operationalize more of those beds.”
Seventeen of the 37 additional beds will go on the seventh floor of the hospital’s main patient tower creating double occupancy, semi-private rooms that are now private.
Mercy Health Muskegon put one of the additional beds into operation Tuesday as a trial “to see how it went and if there were any major issues that may be with that that we need to work through before we do it more broadly,” Grill said.
Among those issues: Having adequate staff. All hospitals are presently dealing with an acute staffing shortage that hinders their ability to keep up with the present patient surge. The pace at which the emergency beds go into operation in Muskegon hinges on available staffing and maintaining safe staff-to-patient ratios, Grill said.
“Staffing is difficult for us like it is for everyone else, so it absolutely is dependent on staff as far as how many of these additional beds we can actually activate,” he said.
The present patient surge has pushed several hospitals across the state to near or above capacity.
In Grand Rapids, Spectrum Health in late November received emergency approval from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services for an emergency request to add 28 temporary inpatient beds at Butterworth Hospital. In its request to the state, Spectrum Health said occupancy is “surging beyond capacity due to the number of COVID-19 patients we are caring for, but also, what we believe is deferred care because of the global pandemic.”
Physicians and hospital leaders have repeatedly said much of the COVID-19 case surge involves patients who are unvaccinated.
Of the COVID-19 patients at Mercy Health Muskegon, 80 percent are unvaccinated. Of patients in the ICU or on a ventilator, 90 percent are unvaccinated, Grill said.
The patient surge has been pushing doctors, nurses and clinical staff at hospitals to their limits and driving up stress and burnout, leading to higher turnover rates at hospitals.
Physicians and hospital leaders have been pleading with people who have not already to get vaccinated for COVID-19.
“The best thing we can do for ourselves and to care for one another is to be vaccinated,” Dr. Aaron Lane-Davies, pediatric hospitalist at Bronson Children’s Hospital and chief of quality for Bronson Medical Group, said in a Tuesday media briefing. “These remain the most impactful tools that we have to protect ourselves and protect our community.”
The pressure on hospitals also has led to delays in care, surgeries and admitting patients from the ER, as well as in patient transfers from one hospital to another for specialty care.
“This is a health care capacity crisis, not just a COVID crisis,” said Dr. Scott Gibson, medical director of Bronson Healthcare’s Emergency Departments.
Dr. Thomas Rohs, chief medical officer at Ascension Borgess in Kalamazoo and a critical care surgeon, described how he was on call last weekend when three patients had their surgeries delayed a full day. They “had an extra day of pain and suffering they didn’t need to experience and they encountered a higher risk of having complications and problems as a result of that,” Rohs said.
“The real story today actually is how this pandemic is affecting care for everybody else,” he said. “On any given day, at least a handful of patients in both my emergency department and with our regional partners and small hospitals are waiting to be transferred into our institutions in Kalamazoo.”
Delays in providing care also have led to short tempers among patients.
Nurses and doctors today often face angry patients who have been waiting hours and lash out when they finally see a caregiver, said Grill, who urges people to “please be patient with the health care system and health care workers.”
“We’re all doing the best that we can,” Grill said. “We’re still seeing a significant degree of anger from patients having to wait and there really isn’t anything we can do that’s obviously beyond our control. Our frontline nurse and staff and physicians are doing the best they can to take care of everybody as we do our best to work through another surge.”
Or, as Dr. Lane-Davies said Tuesday: “Please be kind to health care workers in your life.”
Correction: This story has been updated with the correct titles of Dr. Aaron Lane-Davies and Dr. Scott Gibson.