‘We need your help’: Top doctors in southwest Michigan urge public to take COVID surge seriously

Hospitals are near capacity. Bronson Healthcare said 23 people died of COVID last week, the highest they’ve seen in a single week since the beginning of the pandemic.
Posted at 6:49 PM, Dec 07, 2021

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — COVID-19 continues to hit West Michigan hard.

Hospitals are near capacity, including ones in Southwest Michigan. Tuesday afternoon, top doctors from Bronson Healthcare and Ascension Borgess — both in Kalamazoo — and Oaklawn Hospital in Marshall held a media briefing at Western Michigan University to urge the public to take this latest surge seriously.

SEE MORE: Southwest Michigan hospital leaders plea for help as COVID-19 surges

“We’re here today to share what’s happening in our healthcare system, the COVID-19 surge, and to ask for your help. We need your help,” said Dr. William Nettleton at the beginning of the media briefing held at WMU’s Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine. “What is happening right now in our healthcare system is an unprecedented number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and non-COVID-19 hospitalizations.”

Dr. Nettleton, who is also the medical director for the Kalamazoo County and Calhoun County Health Departments, said it’s impacting individuals, families, and communities. And, it’s all preventable.

“Last week 23 people, 23 members of our community, died from COVID in Bronson hospitals, the highest number of deaths in the Bronson system since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Dr. Aaron Lane-Davies of Bronson Healthcare. “We’re seeing an increase in younger people who have serious COVID disease.”

Dr. Lane Davies, who’s worked in pediatrics for 20 years, said they’re seeing an increase in case-positivity rates among children. The hospitals are also at peak levels when it comes to hospitalizations.

“Currently at Ascension Borgess Hospital we have around mid-50s patients in our hospital. Fifteen of our 40 ICU beds are occupied by coronavirus patients, and that adds up to about 25 percent of our inpatient hospitalization beds,” said Dr. Thomas Rohs, chief medical officer at Ascension Borgess. “The real story today actually is how this pandemic is affecting access to care for everybody else. On any given day, at least a handful of patients in both my emergency department and with our regional partners in small hospitals are waiting to be transferred into our institutions in Kalamazoo.”

Dr. Scott Gibson of Bronson Healthcare agreed. He said what they’re experiencing is a capacity crisis in conjunction with the COVID pandemic. Healthcare and frontline workers are so overwhelmed tending to patients that wait times have increased in the emergency rooms.

“Traditionally, very serious things like people in car accidents, heart attacks, strokes, patients with serious infections might present to one of the smaller hospitals, and then they need that higher level of care,” Dr. Gibson said at the podium. “When those places and hospitals provide that higher level of care are overwhelmed, we are forced to contact hospitals all around the region to try and find the patient the care they need. Even when we secure a spot for those patients, frequently ambulances are not available to make transport.”

READ MORE: Michigan has more than 221K active cases of COVID-19, the highest since the pandemic began

The doctors said they do what they can to tend to every patient but wait times are climbing. It’s something Dr. Summer Liston-Crandall said she’s seeing at Oaklawn Hospital in Marshall.

“The wait times have risen and the number of people who leave without treatment climbed, many of those who truly needed care,” Dr. Liston-Crandall said. “We are limited by having few to no beds to admit at Oaklawn or any of our referral hospitals nearby.”

The doctors said the surge and spike in hospitalizations is taking an emotional toll on their nurses, staff and frontline workers. Some have left due to the vaccine mandates but also due to exhaustion.

Doctors are feeling the impact too, said Dr. Lane-Davies.

“In healthcare, we’re used to sort of rallying and getting through hard times, and the pandemic has not given us that chance to come up for breath,” he said during an interview after the briefing. “The peak and the duration of this wave is taking a tremendous toll on healthcare workers.”

Thus, the doctors stressed the importance of getting the vaccine. They said they understand some people may not trust doctors or the vaccine. So, they encourage that people reach out to them with questions. However, they believe it’s the best way to beat the virus and end the pandemic.

“I’m hoping we achieve a vaccination rate and a protection rate that’s higher than we’ve ever seen,” Dr. Liston-Crandall said after the briefing. “That people do the right thing and wear their masks to their kids' basketball games, or else we won’t be having basketball games.”

READ MORE: Top doctors continue to sound alarms on COVID’s impact at area hospitals

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