Hospitals in the region plan to add hundreds of beds in anticipation of a surge of patients from the COVID-19 pandemic, MiBiz has learned.
The state has been quickly approving the emergency requests within a matter of days of receiving applications from hospitals to collectively add more than 2,500 beds across Michigan, based on a review of filings to the state.
In Grand Rapids, Mercy Health Saint Mary’s requests emergency approval from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to add 200 beds, according to a March 27 state filing. Mercy Health proposed to add 176 beds at Saint Mary’s hospital on Jefferson Avenue in Grand Rapids, and 24 beds at its 64th Street Ambulatory Surgery Center in southwestern Kent County.
Mercy Health Muskegon secured approval last week to add 72 beds at its hospital campus on Sherman Boulevard, which includes a 267-bed new inpatient tower that opened a year ago. Mercy Health Muskegon’s surge plan includes using 10 operating rooms built at the campus that not yet put into use, and turning five existing ORs into hospital rooms. All would have ICU and ventilator patients.
Mercy Health Muskegon would activate the 72 beds in phases “based on surge and ICU demand,” according to its filing to the state that sought emergency approval.
The health system also has capacity available at Hackley Hospital in Muskegon and the Lakeshore Campus in Shelby, and “we are exploring other off-site locations, including partnering with Muskegon Community College to have 50 beds at their Wellness Center,” Mercy Health Muskegon said in a statement to MiBiz.
On Monday, Muskegon Community College said that it partnered with Mercy Health and the state to offer the on-campus Health and Wellness Center as a site for hospital beds for overflow patients.
Spectrum Health last week received emergency approval from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to add 250 beds at the Grand Valley State University Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences across Michigan Street from the Butterworth Hospital campus in downtown Grand Rapids. The health system quickly moved beds and equipment into the Cook-DeVos Center, which could house non-COVID-19 and low-acuity patients, as MiBiz previously reported.
In Grand Rapids, Spectrum Health also is requesting emergency approval to add 37 beds at the Renucci Hospitality House adjacent to Butterworth Hospital for “inpatient hospice and end-of life-services,” according to a letter of intent submitted to the state.
In Berrien County, Spectrum Health Lakeland received state approval Monday to add 45 beds at its 215-bed St. Joseph hospital to expand capacity to 260 beds. Spectrum Health Lakeland in its filing said it would add the beds “as necessary, in surgical prep/recovery, operating, post-anesthesia care unit, and endoscopy rooms.”
The 573-bed Edward W. Sparrow Hospital in Lansing also wants to add 50 beds.
Those plans are part of a far broader push by hospitals across the state to ramp up capacity.
At the urging of the state to implement contingency plans to handle an expected surge in COVID-19 patients, health systems statewide have proposed or quickly secured approval to add hundreds of beds to their existing inpatient capacity, said Ruthanne Sudderth, a spokesperson for the Michigan Health & Hospital Association. That does not include converting Detroit’s TCF Center — formerly known as Cobo Hall — into a 900-bed into a field hospital.
The quick emergency approvals for more hospital beds followed an executive order Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued last week for state regulators to issue emergency certificate-of-need approvals for hospitals seeking to temporarily add bed capacity. The executive order also directed the Department of Health and Human Services to “defer strict compliance with the procedural requirements” of certificate of need regulations.
The bigger issue for hospitals adding capacity is how to staff the additional beds and new facilities that come online, Sudderth said. The risk to doctors, nurses and other health care professionals makes that an even more difficult issue to address, she said.
“One of our biggest challenges so far has been keeping our health care workers healthy and not having to take them offline because of exposure or illness, and that’s already challenging existing facilities,” Sudderth said. “We are all trying to work together to come up with creative ways to get staff in hospitals that need them right now and staff to any kind of new facility that does open up in the near future, but it’s going to be hard.”
One idea “on a long list of things that we are exploring, at least regionally,” is having hospitals within a region share staff and deploy people where there are immediate needs.
A problem with that idea is that the COVID-19 pandemic has been spreading so quickly, “we don’t want a hospital somewhere to send their people to another facility and they are needed back home shortly thereafter,” Sudderth said. There’s also a risk of medical workers “bringing that exposure to the illness between communities,” she said.
Mercy Health told MiBiz that it is “actively working to bring on more staff,” including recruiting through parent corporation Trinity Health’s internal agency and reaching out to recent retirees and senior-level nursing students.
“Additionally, we are utilizing FirstChoice, which is Trinity Health's regional internal nurse staffing program. Mercy Health also has a redeployment strategy that utilizes staff who were impacted by the services that were closed or decreased due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the health system said.
Other executive orders by Gov. Whitmer would allow recently retired clinicians to go back to work and speed up the licensing process for medical students in their final year. An order issued Sunday granted hospitals and other care providers greater flexibility in how they use staff and students to treat COVID-19 patients.
That executive order temporarily suspended scope-of-practice provisions in the state’s Public Health Code for licensed, registered or certified health care professionals, as MiBiz previously reported. The order allows hospitals and other care facilities to use physician assistants, nurses and other qualified professionals to work without supervision from a licensed physician where they are employed or contracted to work.
The Department of Health & Human Services set up a website where medical professionals can volunteer to assist hospitals in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Residents also can use the website to volunteer to give blood, donate money or medical supplies, and to help track infection rates.
As of Monday, Michigan had nearly 6,500 COVID-19 patients, an increase of 1,102 cases from the day before, and 184 deaths, up by 52 from Sunday.
A study released over the weekend by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at University of Washington Medicine projects the pandemic in Michigan to peak on April 8 with an average of 158 deaths per day. The study projects that 2,862 people in Michigan will die by Aug. 8 from COVID-19.
The University of Washington Medicine study offers projections for each state and the U.S. The University of Washington Medicine study assumes “the continuation of strong social distancing measures and other protective measures.”
In a video message Spectrum Health circulated Monday on social media, President and CEO Tina Freese Decker said based on projections and the pandemic’s current rate, “we would exceed demand for hospital and intensive care services in early May, and this would last for many weeks.”
“These are just estimates and we hope for the best, but our job is to plan for the worst,” Freese Decker said. “This peak in cases would be more than our health care system, or any health care system could handle. In response, we are making every possible effort to increase the capacity of our hospitals.”