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‘This is a surge upon a surge’: Hospitals hitting max capacity due to variety of reasons

Posted at 7:28 PM, Nov 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-12 20:04:52-05

WEST MICHIGAN — Nurse Karin Barnhard said it’s a "very emotional" time at Mercy Health Muskegon right now.

“It’s crazy. I mean, we have waiting times that are astronomical for the community. Patients are waiting down in the ER for days before they’re able to get beds,” Barnhard said during a Zoom interview with FOX 17 on Friday afternoon. “It’s so disheartening as a nurse to know that our community has to have these wait times that are just beyond measure for them.”

Barnhard, who’s also a part of the SEIU, said they’re seeing high admissions and wait times at the hospital and they don’t have enough staff to meet all the needs, whether or not patients are battling COVID.

“Health problems don’t stop just because a pandemic’s here,” said fellow Mercy Health nurse and SEUI member Laura Krzykwa during the same Zoom interview. “Everything else is continuing to happen. People are still having heart attacks. People are still having strokes. They still have the everyday health problems that communities have, and they still need the care that they need. That doesn’t take a break or a holiday because of a pandemic.”

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Krzykwa agreed that they’re experiencing a staffing shortage and because of that they can’t do the little things that they’d like to for their patients.

“Like a back rub,” said Barnhard. “They lay in those beds a lot you know. To just get a back rub or wash their hair or give them a bath or change any of their linens — I mean these are things that aren’t getting done like they normally would because we’re so shorthanded.”

Both Barnhard and Krzykwa said despite nurses and frontline workers feeling overwhelmed, they’re passionate about caring for their patients.

Dr. Darryl Elmouchi said they have the same attitude at Spectrum Health.

“If someone shows up and they need our care, we’re going to provide it. We’re going to find a way to do that,” said Dr. Elmouchi in a Zoom interview with FOX 17 on Friday. “It is incredibly hard when you are putting beds in areas you don’t normally have beds. When you’re asking staff instead of seeing three patients, or are covering three patients, to cover five patients or whatever the numbers might be... But, you do what you have to do to care for people.”

Dr. Elmouchi said their hospitals are at max capacity due to record high admissions.

Currently, 85 percent of their patients are battling illnesses not related to COVID, which is typical for this time of year, he said. However, they have an additional 317 patients who are battling COVID, which pushes the hospital’s capacity percentage to 100 percent.

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“The one thing that rings 100 percent true, and we track this for every admission and every week, is of all of our inpatients in the hospital with COVID — so the 317 — 85 percent of them are unvaccinated,” Dr. Elmouchi said. “And, of all of our ICU patients, 94 percent are unvaccinated. So, what does that mean? We’re starting to see a lot more breakthrough infections for vaccinated people but they don’t end up in the hospital. They don’t end up in the ICU. They don’t end up on the ventilator.”

Dr. Elmouchi added that the numbers at Helen DeVos are up as well. For Thursday and Friday of this week, they’re seeing record COVID admissions with 17 kids battling COVID, and five are critically ill with COVID.

“This is a surge upon a surge upon a huge amount of non-COVID care,” he said. “So, it’s kind of the triple whammy.”

Doctors and officials at Mercy Health Muskegon said they’re seeing the same thing. They released a statement to FOX 17 from Chief Medical Officer Dr. Justin Grill saying: 

“Mercy Health Muskegon is currently operating at capacity, but remains ready to meet the highest quality of care for our community. Patients should not avoid seeking medical treatment at this time. For any non-immediate medical needs, please contact your Primary Care Physician. For immediate but non-life-threatening conditions, patients should seek care at one of Mercy Health's convenient Urgent Care locations []. Due to an increase of patients, wait times in the Emergency Room are longer than normal.

“Mercy Health Muskegon is examining inpatient surgical cases daily, and is currently deferring some elective inpatient surgical cases to address the patient care surge. We continue to perform medically necessary urgent or emergent surgical cases.

“A strong majority of this patient increase is due to non-vaccinated COVID-positive patients. We continue to encourage the community to get their COVID-19 vaccine and, if eligible, the vaccine booster. We are also asking our community to get the flu shot. We appreciate the community's patience while seeking medical care and their continued support in slowing the spread of COVID-19.”

Dr. Elmouchi also stressed the importance of getting vaccinated and, if possible, the booster shot.

Moreover, if anyone is in need of medical attention, the frontline workers said to go to the hospital. They deeply care about their patients' well-being, they said.

“It’s not something you leave at work. This isn’t an occupation where it's a nine-to-five job,” Krzykwa said. “This is patient[s'] lives. And, it's not something you can shut off when you go home.”

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