Spectrum Health: Be mindful when going to the emergency room

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — With a surge of patients and a shortage of nursing staff, Spectrum Health providers are reminding patients to consider all options before visiting the emergency room.

“We’re asking patients to more deliberately think about seeking emergency care and also more deliberately evaluate the choices that are available in the community such as their primary care doctor, urgent cares and virtual options before they come to the emergency department,” said Dr. Erica Michiels, the associate medical director at the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital emergency department, said during a virtual press conference Friday.

Helen DeVos typically sees 160 patients per day this time of year. Currently, it is seeing around 200 patients per day, with some nights surging to 220 to 240 patients per day, Michiels said. Throughout the rest of Spectrum Health, other departments are also seeing a surge in patients, leading to higher wait times.

There are multiple factors, like other viruses surging at an unusual time of year. She noted that they are seeing a surge in both summer and winter viruses among children.

“Because largely our community has stopped masking and is circulating more frequently, we’re seeing kids getting sick with those viruses at a very odd time of year,” Michiels said.

COVID-19 is another factor.

“This delta surge is affecting us. It is bringing more patients to the department and they are sicker and need an admission, especially unvaccinated patients,” said Dr. Nicholas Kuhl, the medical director of adult emergency medicine for Spectrum Health.

Average door to room times have increased from what would have been 5 to 10 minutes to 10 to 20 minutes or longer during surges, according to Kuhl. He says overall patient numbers have been increasing throughout the year.

“Earlier in the pandemic we had lower numbers of patients arriving to the ER. This is during the time there were stay-at-home orders, people were masking and even patients were delaying care. Since January of (2021) we’ve had a steady rise in the number of patients coming to our emergency departments,” Kuhl said.

Michiels also said there is a nationwide nursing shortage, which is impacting care for both kids and adults.

Doctors stressed that in an emergency, like stroke symptoms, chest pain or a child having difficulty breathing, patients should still go to the emergency room.

“If you feel that you’re having an emergency, we’re here for you and we can safely care for you,” Michiels said. “But that care may feel and look a little different.”

Although Spectrum is seeing higher numbers than normal, Kuhl says it isn’t full.

“We are stretched thin, our buffers are smaller than they have been in the past, but they’re still there and we’re not full,” he said.

—News 8’s Kyle Mitchell contributed to this report.

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