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Surge in COVID-19 numbers create capacity concerns for West Michigan hospitals

Oaklawn Hospital in Marshall.JPG
Oaklawn Hospital in Marshall.JPG
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A surge in COVID-19 cases across Michigan has filled beds at hospitals and some hospitals in West Michigan are at or near capacity.

Some hospitals have had to send patients to other hospitals for treatment. County health officials said capacity become more of a concern as the flu season and other seasonal illnesses began. Surging COVID-19 numbers mean many hospitals are finding themselves in stressful situations.

"The biggest thing," Oaklawn Hospital Chief Nursing Officer Theresa Dawson said, "We have more rooms that we could set up for COVID patients, but you got to have the staff to take care of them.”

Officials said it's up to the public to be responsible to help ease the burden of capacity.

Oaklawn Hospital was near or at capacity as of Oct. 26, 2020 and Dawson said many hospitals in the Calhoun County area were reaching their limits.

During the first wave of COVID-19, Oaklawn, like many hospitals, halted elective procedures. It freed up staff to treat COVID-19 patients, but the hospitals returned to elective procedures, and treating patients for COVID-19.

“I do personally worry about it. I was just talking to a colleague of mine. And it’s something that you lose sleep over," Dawson said.

In the last week and a half, Oaklawn has had to divert patients.

“We’ve had to send some out to other organizations, which puts a strain on them. So we don’t like doing that," Dawson said.

Bronson Battle Creek has also had to divert patients due to a high volume seeking emergency care for a variety of reasons, a spokesperson said.

In spring 2020, the most COVID-19 patients Spectrum Health West Michigan had in all of its hospitals at one time was 85.

“As of a few minutes ago we’re at 156, so nearly double, and what gives us the most concern is that we are doing a very large amount of testing, and our percent positives continue to go up," Dr. Darryl Elmouchi, Spectrum Health West Michigan president said.

Elmouchi said Spectrum Health West Michigan's COVID-19 testing was at 9% positive as of Oct. 26. He said it's been in the two to three percent range the last three to four months and the hospitalization rate was likely to keep climbing.

“I think we’re really at the base of what could be the mountain of a second surge," Elmouchi said.

ProMedica Coldwater Regional Hospital was not at the point of diverting patients.

Dr. Brian Kaminski, vice president of quality and patient safety for the ProMedica system, said ProMedica was monitoring the upward trend of cases, especially during flu season.

“The trend in COVID cases that will require hospitalization might get us into a really stressful situation," Kaminski said.

The three health officials said treatment and preparation had been better from the experience of the last eight and a half months.

They said people resisting the urge to ignore COVID-19 guidelines could be the difference in preventing hospitals from getting overwhelmed.

“What we’re observing is people who do those things have a very low rate of transmission," Kaminski said.

Hospitals have discussed potential methods of dealing with capacity issues including setting mobile field hospitals, like those near Detroit; converting more of the space within hospitals to be used to treat COVID-19; or even shutting down elective procedures to free up staff.

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