GRAND RAPIDS — The ongoing high demand for care both from people ill with COVID-19 and non-COVID patients who have delayed procedures has some West Michigan hospitals nearing capacity.
Spectrum Health’s two main Grand Rapids-area facilities — Butterworth Hospital in downtown and Blodgett Hospital in East Grand Rapids — were at 92 percent and 93 percent capacity, respectively, as of Monday, according to a state database.
The steady rise since summer in the number of COVID-19 patients who require hospitalizations, which has accelerated in the last week, isn’t the only factor pushing hospitals’ capacity. It’s also being caused by people who delayed care earlier in the pandemic and are now seeking treatment, said Dr. Daryl Elmouchi, president of Spectrum Health West Michigan.
After delaying care, those patients are now often sicker, resulting in an acuity level “higher than it’s ever been persistently at Spectrum Health,” Elmouchi said.
The increase in both COVID and non-COVID patients has been testing the ability of hospitals statewide to manage care, Elmouchi said. Hospitals are typically set up to run at up to 85 percent capacity, he said.
“The challenge is (that) COVID is so much more now and the volume is so much more that it throws hospitals across our state well over what is a manageable capacity. That makes it really challenging not only to care for COVID patients, but to give the best care possible for people without COVID,” Elmouchi said during a media briefing today. “We have not experienced anything like this throughout the entire pandemic, the combination of non-COVID acuity and volumes, coupled with dramatically increasing COVID care.”
Hospitals statewide were at 82 percent capacity Monday, according to the state. Some were at 100 percent, including Spectrum Health’s Kelsey Hospital in Lakeview in Montcalm County. In greater Grand Rapids, University of Michigan Health-West (formerly Metro Health) was at 94 percent capacity.
Given the surge in patients, Spectrum Health over the past three months has “deferred far more surgeries than we would like” that are low risk, mostly involve adults and require an overnight stay, said Spectrum Health Chief Operating Officer Brian Brasser.
“Each time we do that, it’s problematic ... for patients and their families,” Brasser said. “We are actually starting to see a little bit of our surgery schedule (affected) because surgeons are recognizing the situation that we’re in, and so they aren’t even scheduling the patient because they know that we are running at such high capacities.”
High volumes also limit the ability to transfer patients between facilities, Elmouchi said. Spectrum Health’s hospitals typically get 50 calls a day for patient transfers. The health system is down to accepting less than 10 patient transfers daily, he said.
As patient volumes increased since the summer, Spectrum Health added 75 beds in converted spaces in “proximity to where our services would be,” Brasser said.
As well, Spectrum Health clinicians have been working extra shifts to handle the high patient load, Brasser said. The long hours and high patient volumes have been taking a toll on staff, Brasser said.
“Our team members are very tired,” he said.
Among the patients hospitalized with COVID-19 as of last week, 85 percent were unvaccinated, Elmouchi said while urging people who have yet to get vaccinated to do so. Of the patients on a ventilator, 95 percent were unvaccinated, he said.
Spectrum Health now has 367 COVID-19 inpatients across all of its hospitals. During the summer, the health system was down to 40 to 50 COVID inpatients, Elmouchi said.
COVID-19 hospitalizations at Spectrum Health have risen 25 percent in the last week and 40 percent since Nov. 1, Elmouchi said.
“So we’ve seen a huge rise over many months and a dramatic shift up over the last couple of weeks,” he said.
Despite the capacity issues right now, Spectrum Health executives in a media briefing this morning urged people who need care to seek it, although they may have to wait longer in an emergency room than usual.
“If you need care, seek it. You don’t need to wait,” Spectrum Health President and CEO Tina Freese Decker said. “We are a safe environment and we are here to help you.”