DEARBORN, Mich. (WXYZ) — We're now just days away from ringing in a New Year, still in the shadow of a deadly pandemic.
This week the U.S. hit another grim milestone; daily COVID cases reaching an all-time high. The fourth surge bringing with it a familiar headache for Michigan hospitals; stretched capacity and depleted staffing.
Beaumont Dearborn is one of four hospitals in our state getting staffing help from the federal government. A team of 20-23 military personnel have been there since Dec. 3, and recently the state approved an additional 30 days for the team. If the Army signs off, it would keep additional personnel there through January.
The team is compromised of critical care nurses, nurse practitioners, and respiratory therapists. They work alongside Beaumont's civilian staff.
As of Monday, Beaumont Dearborn has 91 COVID patients, 9 of whom are in the ICU. Bed capacity at the hospital is at 85 percent.
“It’s really depressing. But we do our best. That’s all we can do," said registered nurse Rena Issa.
Long days covered in PPE is all Rena has really known since becoming a nurse. She graduated just before the pandemic. We spoke remotely via Zoom during one of her breaks.
During this wave of the virus, she's seeing people — both young and old — get very sick.
“We have a lot of patients on the floor that are requiring a lot of oxygen. Sometimes they require AVAPS," she said. “It is definitely a lot of unvaccinated patients that are the sickest.”
Army Lt. Col. Theresa Nowak is one of the servicemembers deployed at Beaumont Dearborn right now.
“Every day is different. You don’t necessarily know what you’re walking into. But we know that we have a very strong team," she said.
Early on in the pandemic, Army medical teams helped staff TCF Center in Detroit when it operated as a field hospital for COVID patients. Since then, Nowak said the DOD has made some adjustments to deployed teams.
“They’re smaller so we can branch off into multiple locations at one time," she said.
The DOD has also provided staff to assist at Covenant Healthcare in Saginaw, currently with a 98 percent bed capacity, and Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids which has is operating at 87 capacity as of Monday.
Starting Dec. 30 federal staffing support will also be on the ground at Mercy Health in Muskegon to treat patients. Mercy Health is at 75 percent bed capacity.
Issa said for patients with longer hospital stays like in the ICU, maintaining hope can be hard.
“We offer Zoom and FaceTime for their families but a lot of the time they don’t want to," she said, noting that it can be too painful for the patients.
And it's a pain that doesn't just impact patients and their loved ones, but also the people fighting to keep them alive.
“You don’t get to leave it at work. You take it home," Issa said.
We asked Issa if her unvaccinated patients who end up on a vent ever share their feelings on that choice.
"They are very very scared," she said. "My patients you know, they beg you. What can you do for me? Help me please," Issa told Action News.
"They don't really say they regret but they do share that they're very very very scared," Issa said.
Last week Pres. Biden directed the DOD to prepare an additional 1,000 troops to help staff hospitals around the country as needed in early 2022. Action News has reached out to the DOD to confirm if any of those additional troops may be deployed to Michigan.
With Omicron surging, dedicated frontline workers like Issa are preparing.
“I think it’s going to mean when we say we don’t have any beds, we don’t have any beds," she said.
Doctors and nurses at Beaumont and other area health systems advise to always seek treatment if you need help; regardless of staffing challenges there will be someone there to help you if you go to an ER.