Stress on hospitals grows as COVID-19 cases surge again

Coronavirus

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A spike in COVID-19 hospitalization rates has West Michigan on the verge on becoming overwhelmed.

The state reported 3,304 hospitalizations Tuesday, which is more than quadruple the number reported six weeks ago.

More than half of those currently hospitalized are under the age of 60, Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said during a press conference Tuesday.

A few weeks into the surge, health officials fear there could be a repeat of hospitalization rates that were seen last fall.

“Although we certainly have seen a surge, we can handle,” Chief Medical Officer at Metro Health Dr. Ronald Grifka said. “But we are concerned if it continues to go up, will it overwhelm our health care capacity?”

Grifka said they have roughly 20 COVID-19 patients currently in their care, half of the patient load experienced at their peak in the fall.

The emergency room is also feeling the impact of this surge.

“We too are seeing an increased number of people coming into the emergency room with COVID and many getting admitted to the hospital because of covid,” Grifka said.

A COVID-19 patient currently admitted at Metro Health told News 8 the emergency room was crowded and chaotic upon her arrival Monday afternoon.

“They had people spitting and vomiting in buckets behind me, sitting (right) behind me, and I was like this is so sick,” Denise Lessens said.

Upon arrival, Lessens said she told hospital staff she was positive for COVID-19 but still waited in a room full of people for approximately three hours before being seen.

“I was sitting right next to regular people, they had no idea I was COVID (positive),” Lessens said. “I thought this isn’t right with all these people in here.”

Grifka said the waiting room is socially distanced and personal protective equipment is provided, while acknowledging a surge in patients can often lead to longer wait times and challenges in separating COVID-19 patients from others.

“We can’t see everyone at the same time, so we’re certainly trying to triage them, seeing the sickest patients first,” Grifka said. “Getting them back there and trying to keep the respiratory people who may have COVID from the non-respiratory people, and just try and do it as cohesively as we can.”

Lessens said since being admitted, her quality of care has been great. However, she still wants to caution others about her ER experience.

“Be careful, be your own advocate. I didn’t speak up for myself yesterday,” Lessens said. “I probably should’ve, but I could hardly talk. I was so dehydrated.”

Citing a surge in patients, Mercy Health Muskegon on Monday declared an “internal disaster,” which it said is comparable to a municipality declaring a state of emergency. The hospital said the posture allows it to make changes in staffing and resource allocation.

Mercy Health Muskegon said of the patients causing the surge, some are COVID-19 positive but several are not.

It had 29 COVID-19 inpatients as of Tuesday.

As hospitalization numbers continue to rise statewide, Grifka said they continue to do their best to treat ER patients as quickly and safely as possible.

“We are seeing a lot more patients coming in through the emergency room the last two weeks,” Grifka said. Many of them can go home, they’re not quite as sick as the ones we saw back in fall and winter. But nonetheless, the numbers in the emergency department and urgent care centers are increasing all over West Michigan.”

Grifka joins state health officials in stressing the importance of mask wearing and other mitigation efforts to curb the rate of hospitalizations.

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