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A small Upper Peninsula hospital pleads: You’re our neighbors, help us

With a feared shortage of beds as Michigan sustains a second wave of COVID-19, at least one Upper Peninsula hospital is taking a more personal, intimate approach as it pleads with area residents to remain vigilant against the virus.


“You know us,” the Facebook post begins. 

“We are your neighbors. Our kids share classrooms. Our grandkids are on the same team,” the note, signed by nurses at Chippewa County War Memorial Hospital, continues. 

“We’re tired. We are watching people we know get very sick from this virus. We’re worried about spreading COVID-19 to our own families. Our co-workers are getting sick, and we’re working short-staffed…. We need our communities to rally with us.” 

The note, which urges residents to follow basic safety guidelines such as washing hands, wearing masks and staying socially distant, was crafted from a template created by communications staff at Upper Peninsula hospitals, said Ruthanne Sudderth, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Health & Hospital Association. These facilities were relatively untouched by COVID-19 in the spring, but saw a surge in patients this autumn. 

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“We’re hovering on the capacity line, but we’re holding our own,” said Teresa Dwyer-Armstrong, spokeswoman for War Memorial.

She and others hope that the decline in hospitalizations last week is the tip of a new trend.

But they worry that a possible spread of COVID at Thanksgiving gatherings may eventually drive infections up again, and say hospitalization levels remain too high to be sustainable in the long term.

Chief medical officers Monday called on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration to extend pandemic orders that expire this week.

Trying to curb a surge in cases in mid-November, Robert Gordon, director of Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, ordered a three-week shutdown of indoor service at bars and restaurants, closed high school classrooms and reduced capacity at retail stores, among other actions. The order is effective through Tuesday.

“With vaccines now in sight, nobody wants to see the progress of the last three weeks go to waste,” the medical officers wrote in a joint statement released through the Michigan Health & Hospital Association.

Indeed, the statewide surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations in November has reversed, dropping four days this past week and falling in every region of the state from Monday through Friday

On Thursday, the state reported that 25 Michigan hospitals were at 90 percent bed capacity or above. 

Unlike in the spring, when overwhelmed hospitals were generally confined to southeast Michigan, COVID patients are testing hospital capacity throughout the state. 

On Oct. 30, there were 1,728 patients with confirmed or suspected COVID in Michigan’s hospitals, according to state data. By Nov. 30 it had climbed to 4,326. 

That number slid to 4,141 patients on Friday.

That number reflects the number of patients in beds. But it doesn’t capture the toll on staff and strain on equipment needed for COVID patients, said John Karasinski, spokesman for the hospital association.

Nor does it reflect the frustration of other patients whose non-urgent procedures have been delayed as hospitals make room for COVID patients.
The recent decline in hospitalizations is “a good indicator that improvements are being made, but it's not something that we can celebrate and consider that the job is done.”

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