Were at a breaking point, Beaumont Health doctor says of COVID-19 surge – Detroit Free Press

More than 430 Beaumont Health employees are out with coronavirus symptoms and this week health system leaders requested each of its hospitals to strongly consider reducing elective surgical procedures, outpatient imaging and testing.

That way, the system can dedicate more staff to caring for patients who require hospital care, including those with COVID-19, trauma, oncology and acute medical issues during this fourth surge of the virus and the more transmissible omicron variant, hospital officials said Thursday.

said Dr. Jeffrey Fischgrund, Beaumont Health’s chief of clinical services.

We’ve asked all 5,000 of our physicians and our nurse practitioners and physician assistants to  … try to postpone any elective procedures, surgeries, testing, imaging that can be safely postponed.

“We have an obligation to take care of the COVID patients,” he said, but the health system also must be able to take care of people who’ve been injured in car accidents, those who’ve had heart attacks and other illnesses.

“We’ve really asked our physicians to postpone, if safe, any procedures that can be postponed. … We’re trying to take care of the community, but we’re also trying to take care of our staff. … We know our 33,000 staff are working as hard as they’ve ever worked. …  

“We are really at a breaking point. … We are really at a point where it’s the worst it’s ever been. And … we’re afraid it’s going to get even worse next week. So we’re trying to be proactive. We’re cutting back on things that we don’t have to do today, but we still want to take care of our patients.”

Other Michigan hospitals are struggling, too.

Spectrum Health had 766 of its 31,000 employees testing positive for the virus for the week of Dec. 29 through Wednesday, said Chad Tuttle, Spectrum Health West Michigan’s senior vice president for hospital and post-acute operations.

Trinity Health Michigan, which has eight hospitals and 22,000 employees, reported more than 900 medical workers were in isolation or quarantine as of Wednesday after contracting the virus or being exposed to it.

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And the Henry Ford Health System has 989 employees — almost 3% of its workforce — in COVID-19 quarantine or isolation as of Thursday morning, said Bob Riney, COO and president of health care operations for the Detroit-based hospital system.

“When you start to get into numbers where it’s, 3%, 4%, 5% of your workforce, you have to make some decisions about services,” Riney told the Free Press. That means postponing surgical procedures and longer waits in emergency departments.

Beaumont Health is caring for more than 750 COVID-19 patients in its eight hospitals, of which about 65% are not vaccinated. There has been a 40% increase in the number of COVID-19 patients being treated at the health system during the past week, officials said Thursday.

Thirty-six children under age 18 are among the COVID-19 patients, said Dr. Nick Gilpin, the health system’s medial director of infection prevention and epidemiology.

“We’re dealing with just intense, widespread community transmission right now,” Gilpin said during a briefing. “When we look at mathematical modeling, and data that we have from sequencing, we know that the omicron variant is really taking a strong foothold in the Midwest.

“Last estimates that I saw from the CDC put omicron at around 93% of all of the COVID cases that we’re seeing.”

He said the virus is “extremely explosive” and “is probably one of the most — if not the most — contagious virus that we have seen in the modern era, with shorter incubation times. Each person with omicron can potentially spread the virus to as many as six or 10 people and then those people can subsequently pass it on to another six or 10 people. So you can understand how transmission can spiral so quickly.”

“The omicron variant is one of the most contagious viruses we have seen in our lifetime. It’s more important than ever for the community to help contain the spread of this illness,” he said. “Our health care systems are overwhelmed. If you have ignored our pleas for help before, now is the time to take action. We need everyone’s help to get through this fourth surge. Wear a mask. Get vaccinated. Get boosted.”

Beaumont Health's medical director of Infection Prevention and Epidemiology Dr. Nick Gilpin gives an update on coronavirus at the Beaumont Service Center in Southfield, Wednesday, March 18, 2020.

On Wednesday, Michigan hit a new pandemic record for single-day COVID-19 cases, averaging 13,673 cases per day the last two days, according to state data.

There were 4,297 adults and children hospitalized with confirmed cases of the virus statewide; and Michigan smashed another pandemic record Wednesday with 107 children hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Gilpin also urged people to be compassionate, understanding and kind with staff.

“They are also struggling. They are doing their best to follow steps to protect the health and safety of all patients,” he said.

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He said the vaccines are working to prevent COVID-19 from progressing to more serous or fatal consequences. But more people need to get a booster shot.

Currently, 8% of patients in Beaumont Health hospitals have received a booster shot.

Gilpin said: “When you look at the ICUs and the more critically ill patients, the proportion of vaccinated patients with COVID is lower. It’s about 20% to 25%, which goes along with what we understand about this omicron variant — that it is more contagious, but it’s causing less severe disease overall, particularly among the vaccinated.”

A registered nurse draws a shot, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, at the Sparrow Laboratories Drive-Thru Services site in Lansing, the first day the hospital system made COVID-19 vaccine appointments available to people over 70 and to frontline essential workers.

A federal team of doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists continue to help workers care for patients at Beaumont Hospital, Dearborn, one of four federal teams dispatched to Michigan to help hospitals that are struggling with stretched-thin staffing.

The team was to leave the Beaumont Hospital, Dearborn site Jan. 2, but will spend an additional 30 days assisting.

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“They’ve done phenomenal work alongside our amazing staff at Dearborn,” Beaumont, Dearborn Chief Operating Officer Tom Lanni said. “We were able to open additional beds in critical care, and our patients and staff have truly benefited from the expertise the DOD team has brought to our hospital. We feel fortunate to be able to work with DOD team members for an additional month.”

This month, the federal team will have more presence in the emergency center, which is experiencing a large volume of COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients.

Nurses assist patients in beds in a hallway at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing.

Beaumont Health also plans an advertisement — entitled “We’re at a breaking point” — for local newspapers starting Sunday to emphasize the need for the community’s help and support to stop the spread of the virus.

“For the health care system to keep functioning, we must have the community’s support. We all need to work together on the critical preventive steps to control this new phase of the pandemic,” Beaumont Health CEO John Fox said. 

Officials are hoping people will get vaccinated, boosted, wear a mask, practice social distancing, limit gatherings, stay home if you are feeling sick and talk with friends and family to encourage them to get vaccinated.

Spectrum Health is following CDC and MDHHS recommendations, which call for five days of isolation followed by an additional five days of wearing a well-fitting mask while around others. Spectrum Health is grateful for the flexibility, dedication and generosity of its team members, many of whom have volunteered to take extra shifts for stricken colleagues. We are also grateful for the significant help of the Department of Defense medical team which has seamlessly integrated into existing Spectrum Health medical teams. We will also continue to pursue additional help through temporary staffing solutions, including locum tenens physicians. 

Spectrum Health is currently operating under Command Center red status, which means hospital and system operations are disrupted, and surge plans have been activated. We are opening beds in areas normally used for outpatient care or procedures. More surgeries may be deferred, delayed or moved. Clinical staffing is short, and team members may be redeployed to areas of high need. Transfers from other hospital systems are limited to those requiring quaternary care and must be coordinated through the system’s Mission Control. Patients may also have to wait extra time to be seen in the Emergency Department and in other areas of Spectrum Health. Despite this, patients should not hesitate to seek emergency care if the situation calls for it.

Contact Christina Hall: chall@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter: @challreporter.

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