Feds sending team to help Spectrum Health with COVID-19 surge

Coronavirus

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — West Michigan’s largest hospital system is getting federal help to respond to a record number of COVID-19 patients.

The Department of Defense is sending 22 health care workers to Spectrum Health, plus another 22 to Beaumont Hospital in Dearborn. The teams will include nurses, doctors and respiratory therapists. They should be on the job next week and will be on hand for at least 30 days.

“Our hospitals are really at a point in time where their capacity and their ability to care for their community is challenged and with those increases, it’s very concerning about the ability for people to go into a hospital and get the care that they need,” said Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Elizabeth Hertel.

MDHHS announced the help Wednesday.

“On behalf of our physicians, team members and patients we are grateful for the Department of Defense medical team and appreciate support from state and federal levels as we take every measure to care for our community,” Spectrum Health President and CEO Tina Freese Decker said in a statement released by MDHHS. “Working together we can address this urgent public health crisis, relieve the strain on our teams and continue to provide high quality care.”

On Wednesday, Spectrum said 405 of its inpatients had COVID-19. The hospital system is now treating more people for the virus than at any other point in the pandemic, prompting it to rise to red status, its most serious pandemic response level, last week. It said 91% of the patients were unvaccinated.

Currently, it has 106 ICU patients, and 94% of those patients are unvaccinated.

Across the state, nearly 4,000 hospital inpatients have COVID-19; most of them are unvaccinated. The state says that 73% of all cases across Michigan in about the last month, 72% of hospitalizations and 76% of deaths have been among those who are not fully vaccinated.

“There’s no question that this surge is a surge among the unvaccinated. About three quarters of the people that we’re seeing going into the hospitals are unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated and even higher rate of individuals in the ICU and the ventilators,” Hertel said. “So the vaccines are definitely working and we really do encourage people to get their questions answered. Go start your vaccine series.” 

The state has also started sending civilian patients to the John D. Dingell Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Detroit for 30 days to help cope with the patient load.

“I’m grateful that the federal government has granted our request to provide much-needed relief to the health care personnel who have remained on the frontlines of this pandemic,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a Wednesday statement. “Right now, our doctors and nurses are reporting the vast majority of their patients are unvaccinated or have not yet received a booster dose. We can all do our part to help reduce the strain on our hospital systems by getting vaccinated, making an appointment to get a booster dose, and continuing to take precautions to keep ourselves and loved ones safe.”

The state, local health departments and hospital systems are calling on people to get vaccinated to reduce their chances of requiring hospitalization, as well as to wear masks in public and practice social distancing and frequent hand washing.

MDHHS says in order to get numbers back under control, Michiganders have to do their part. 

“I think it’s really important heading into this cold weather and holiday season to remind people our hospitals are doing everything they can for their communities,” Hertel said. “It really is, I think, something that we can do for our healthcare providers to take those steps to keep ourselves safe and keep ourselves healthy because they have been working so hard for us for the last year.” 

Allegan County is experiencing the highest levels of transmission since the start of the pandemic, the Allegan County Health Department said in a release. ACHD reports a seven-day average test positivity rate of 21.56%.

ACHD says 80.5% and 82.6% of hospital beds are occupied, with 24.2% and 25.8% of these being COVID-19 patients (Region 5 and Region 6, respectively). An estimated 79.1% of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated.

Fifty-six percent of Allegan County residents have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, which it said, “is not enough to stem the transmission of the highly contagious Delta variant.”

Officials are asking the community to get vaccinated and to practice other mitigation measures including wearing a mask, staying home if you aren’t feeling well and getting tested before attending gatherings with family and friends.

ACHD asks individuals that test positive or have COVID-like symptoms to reach out to their close contacts (a person exposed to someone with COVID-19 less than 6 feet apart for 15 minutes or more) and advise them. Individuals can notify close contacts using the MI COVID Alert app.

“We need community members to work together to bring the level of community transmission down before the educational institutions and businesses are impacted further,” Allegan County Medical Director, Dr. Richard Tooker said. “Without quick and intentional action from the community, people can expect a decrease in the capacity for local hospitals to provide COVID-19 interventions, other emergency services and routine care for other health concerns. We may see more schools and businesses close due to widespread illness and staff shortages.”

—News 8’s Whitney Burney and Charlsie Dewey contributed to this report.

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