ER’s nearly full, Beaumont asks patients to go elsewhere if possible
Worsening staff shortages, coupled with a surge in patients with a litany of medical needs, prompted Beaumont Health Wednesday to begin asking the public to seek emergency care elsewhere when possible.
The Southfield-based system also temporarily closed down 180 beds throughout its eight-hospital system, stepped up a call for blood donations, and once again repeated the now-familiar plea to the community: Get vaccinated against COVID-19.
All of Beaumont’s 10 emergency departments “are experiencing extreme numbers of patients seeking medical attention,” according to a mid-afternoon announcement. Some patients were seeking care for COVID-19, but “the overwhelming majority” had arrived with other conditions, including those who had delayed care during the pandemic.
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The pressure on the system varies by day and by the hour, Dr. David Donaldson, chief of emergency medicine at Beaumont Hospital Troy, said at a press conference.
He and others stressed that patients with life-threatening emergencies should not delay care and are welcome at a Beaumont ER. Those, however, with less serious ailments were encouraged to “seek other care” if possible, such as visiting a family doctor or an urgent care center.
“I would say a majority of the time, there are more patients than rooms available,” he said of the system’s current capacity.
Across Michigan, hospitalizations for COVID have steadily increased since mid-July when Michigan’s hospitals at times were caring for fewer than 300 patients with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19. But hospitalizations have been rising since, fueled by the more transmissible delta variant.
As of Wednesday, there were 1,535 patients with confirmed or suspected COVID. That is far fewer than at the peak of the spring surge when hospitals were treating more than 4,400 patients for COVID. But the problem now is that Beaumont and other health systems are suffering from a greater lack of staffing, as well as more emergency patients with other illnesses.
“At this point, we’re not only seeing not only our normal volumes, meaning pre-pandemic patient volumes, but we’re seeing that on top of COVID,” he said. “That, in combination with the staffing shortages … is really this perfect storm of patients that are returning for their normal care plus COVID patients plus now this staffing crisis.”
“It’s much different than at the start of this pandemic,” he said.
Some patients, once stabilized, are moved into the hallway for now, he said — “still attended by nursing and physicians and providers but ... moved out to make room for other people.”
Beaumont’s announcement came on the heels of an announcement Monday by Henry Ford Health System that it, too, was temporarily shutting down 120 beds due to a lack of workers.
Meanwhile, health care workers treating COVID are also trying to care for patients who delayed treatment for cardiac disease, stroke, cancer and other conditions during the pandemic, said Dr. Adnan Munkarah, Henry Ford’s executive vice president and chief clinical officer.
Michigan Medicine in Ann Arbor also has handled “consistently heavy volumes for at least the last month,” spokesperson Mary Masson said in an email to Bridge Michigan.
The system is licensed for 1,000 beds, but has shut down 13 beds at least until the end of this week because of staffing shortages, she said.
Last week, hospital leaders and the head of the Michigan Health & Hospital Association pleaded for more residents to become vaccinated, saying hospitals around the state were bumping up against capacity issues once again as the state deals with rising cases.
“Fatigue and frustration is really a big part of it,” Donaldson said of the burnout.
“When there's a known way to prevent this for the most part, and people are not getting (the vaccine), health care workers are getting frustrated with that. If there's alternative places to go work I think people are doing that,” he said.
Some fear that vaccine mandates among hospital staff will further thin the field, although Henry Ford, the first large Michigan health system to mandate a vaccine for staffers this summer, reported Tuesday that about 98 percent of staff have now either been partially or fully vaccinated or have applied for a medical or religious exemption. Beaumont requires that its employees become fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 18.
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