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Opinion | Michigan health systems need help. Will the Legislature respond?

Michigan has come so far in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Most importantly, we’ve successfully vaccinated more than 70 percent of eligible residents 16 and older.

Brian Peters
Brian Peters is CEO of the Michigan Health & Hospital Association. (Courtesy photo)

This momentous feat is not one to be taken lightly. It indicates that the vast majority of Michiganders support COVID-19 vaccination. We’re also encouraged that we’ve already vaccinated more than 12 percent of eligible 5–11-year-olds, mere weeks after the authorization of the childhood vaccine.

This is a great start, but we have a long way to go. We must get more children protected as quickly as possible. Truly we’ve taken historic steps in the race to save lives from this virus.

Unfortunately, it’s not all good news for Michigan yet. Our healthcare system is on the verge of collapse.

The situation is so dire in Michigan that the military has been called in to help staff our hospitals. This bears repeating. The situation in our emergency rooms, long term care facilities and healthcare workforce is so bad, that the military is literally sending in the troops to help staff Michigan hospitals.

Elective surgeries are once again being canceled. Patients are unable to be safely medically transferred to hospitals with higher levels of care due to lack of space.

While the pandemic has certainly played a role in this chapter in our medical history, it’s not the sole contributor. Healthcare workforce staffing shortages existed prior to COVID-19 but have worsened and are expected to persist beyond the pandemic. There is a serious workforce crisis in our state.

Contrary to the early support shown to healthcare workers in the beginning months of the pandemic, a 2021 survey has found that 34 percent of nurses reported experiencing workplace violence, which can lead to higher rates of burnout.

Michigan hospitals have reached new record-high occupancy rates, requiring staff scheduling and capacity adjustments several times daily to preserve patient care standards. For many healthcare facilities, vacancy rates are 20 percent or more of their workforce.

And beyond the hospital, patients are experiencing delays of sometimes several days waiting for transport between a hospital and a nursing home, inpatient psychiatric hospital, or rehabilitation facility due to the shortage of qualified paramedics.

As overwhelming as this situation may seem, some of Michigan’s leading healthcare and education associations support a long-term solution. Michigan’s hospitals, long-term care, medical transportation providers and higher education leaders are advocating for funding to support healthcare workforce staffing and growing the talent pipeline.

As the Michigan legislature considers how to address this shortage, its importance cannot be overstated. The state of our healthcare system has a direct impact on the health of our future. We need lifesaving care and transport, which means we need people able to provide those services. With a healthcare system already pushed to the brink, this investment is more than necessary – it’s our only hope.

We are indebted to our healthcare workers. They have saved countless lives from the worst pandemic our world has seen in more than 100 years. They are our neighbors, family members and friends who live and work in our communities. And they need our help, now.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Ron French. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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