Beaumont Health System is among other health systems across the state that are struggling to meet the need for care during a surge of COVID-19 patients and hospitalizations.
In a press conference Thursday, Beaumont's medical director of infection prevention, Dr. Nick Gilpin, called this third surge "a runaway train." He says most of the hospitals are nearing their capacity limits, between 90-95% occupancy.
Dr. Gilpin says one thing Beaumont's hospitals are doing to meet the increasing need is putting a pause on elective and non-urgent surgeries. Another is putting up a curbside triage center at the Grosse Pointe campus, where he works most days, to help with intake. He says Dearborn and Farmington Hills are discussing doing the same. While they're preparing to open more beds and accomodate more space, they're concerned they won't have the staff to make it work.
"We have enough PPE, we have enough ventilators, we're not strained in that sort of way, but we are strained from a staffing perspective. That is far and away our biggest challenge," he says.
Susan Grant is Beaumont's chief nursing officer. She says she was proud and inspired by the nursing staff at Beaumont, but what's happening now is not sustainable for staff.
"After having done this for more than a year now, our nurses, our doctors, respiratory therapists, our teams—they're tired, and they're worn. They're not only physically tired and word, they're emotionally tired and worn," Grant says. "They have seen a lot of death over the last year, and now, they're seeing younger people who are in our ICU beds who are very very sick, who are in the emergency rooms in our hospital beds who are very very sick, and some who are dying."
She says nurses have picked up extra shifts, and Beaumont has used external agencies to bring in supplemental staff to help with vaccine clinics and help with the surge. They've also reassigned nurses who don't typically work in a clinical setting to provide support.
Grant and Dr. Gilpin both urged that the public take precautions in an attempt to reduce the spread of the virus: wear a mask, physically distance, and make an appointment to get a vaccine when it's available to you. But vaccinating people cannot be the only solution, Dr. Gilipin says.
"I do agree with the CDC director, that it is going to be difficult to vaccinate our way out of this," he says, noting that many people getting the vaccine would not have the full immunity for six weeks. "Six weeks is a long time, and especially when you’re in the middle of a surging pandemic, that is, frankly, too long to wait for some of us that are working in these hospitals."
He's referring to comments from Centers for Disease Control Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, who said,"If we tried to vaccinate our way out of what is happening in Michigan, we would be disappointed that it took so long for the vaccine to... actually have the impact," and that the answer to Michigan's surge is "to go back to where we were last spring, last summer, and to shut things down."
Dr. Gilpin agrees with Dr. Walensky, that what kept many Michiganders out of the hospital last summer were Governor Gretchen Whitmer's pandemic restrictions. He says re-tightening would help Beaumont and other health systems, while acknowledging that the governor had made her position on new restrictions clear.
"The people who are going to do the right things are already doing the right things, and the people who are not doing the right things will not do the right things, and so I think some of that is preaching to the choir, unfortunately. In a time like this right now, in Southeast Michigan and Michigan at large, I do think we have to be a little bit more prescriptive, frankly," he says.