GRAND RAPIDS — The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients that Spectrum Health is treating could surge far higher by early December if present infection rates continue unabated.
The Grand Rapids-based health system — the largest care provider in West Michigan with 14 hospitals across the region — had 345 COVID-19 inpatients as of today. That’s a dramatic rise from early October when COVID-19 inpatient volumes were “hovering around” 35 each day, said Dr. Darryl Elmouchi, president of Spectrum Health West Michigan.
Internal modeling estimates that at the present rate, Spectrum Health’s COVID-19 hospitalization rate across all of its hospitals most likely “would be just shy of 600” by Dec. 2 and in the “worst case” could reach as high as 1,200, Elmouchi said.
“We are very worried, as everyone is in the country, about Thanksgiving and how that might drive those numbers further into December,” Elmouchi said.
Spectrum Health has been testing 3,000 to 4,000 people a day, and did 5,000 one day last week, Elmouchi said. The tests as of Wednesday were producing a positive rate of 17.6 percent and it “continue to creep up,” Elmouchi said,
“That is telling us that in our communities COVID is very much around,” he said.
As COVID-19 cases surged, Spectrum Health last week curtailed testing for only people experiencing symptoms because of what Elmouchi called “supply constraints” and the time it takes to process tests.
“The demand is truly incredible, as you can imagine seeing all those positive folks in our communities, and we are very concerned that if we don’t limit in some way the number of tests we will have such long waiting times those tests won’t be meaningful,” Elmouchi said.
To handle the case surge, Spectrum Health has expanded ICU bed capacity by 30 percent in the last two weeks, converting other medical and surgical spaces, and re-deployed doctors such as pulmonologists and nurses from other clinical areas.
“We have other beds within our hospitals that can really function as ICUs with proper monitoring equipment,” Elmlouchi said today during a media briefing held via Zoom.
“We have additional capacity and if need be we can expand capacity more,” he said. “If you went through our hospitals now you’d find on certain floors that weren’t ICUs before, they now have rows and rows of equipment that were never there that we can stock and use for emerging situations.”
Spectrum Health’s ICUs “are very, very busy” and patients are “far sicker” than they were before, Elmouchi said.
To free up space and staff, Spectrum Health also has been deferring elective surgeries that require an overnight hospital stay to an outpatient setting. The deferral rate right now is about 10 percent, Elmouchi said.
In the spring, Spectrum Health started training nurses in areas such as cardiac units to work in COVID units, Elmouchi said. The health system has the ability to redeploy more staff as needed, he said,
“We have additional capacity both in staff and in beds. It’s just a matter of moving things around,” Elmouchi said.
Spectrum Health also has required nurses to work extra shifts through the pandemic. About 25 percent of the present inpatients are COVID-19 patients, he said.
Prior to the surge, Spectrum Health’s hospitals were running at 80 to 90 percent capacity, “so this 25 percent is very significant, particularly as we’re trying to take care of all of the needs of the community,” Elmouchi said.
“We are a very busy health system and there are a lot of people that have non-COVID-related care,” he said.
In response to the surge in COVID-19 cases, hospitals have delayed or deferred elective procedures and imposed new visitor restrictions. Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo and Metro Health-University of Michigan today became the latest hospitals to put new visitor restrictions in place.
In Muskegon, Mercy Health today planned to open a COVID-19 unit to handle the patient surge. Mercy Health Muskegon planned to start the COVID care unit with 10 beds and increase to 20 beds.
Down the lakeshore in nearby Grand Haven, North Ottawa Community Health System “like all hospitals across Michigan and especially in this region, is very busy managing a much higher volume of sicker patients than normal,” the health system said in a statement to MiBiz.
Some media reports earlier this week that said North Ottawa was at capacity were erroneous, according to a hospital spokesperson.
“Right now, we are doing well, having reallocated available staff from other areas of the health system to work on the inpatient unit. Our emergency room is open, we are admitting inpatients, and we are providing all other services, such as lab and imaging,” NOCH said in a statement. “At present, we are also continuing to provide elective surgery, but watching its impact on inpatient stays, closely. We are not accepting transfers from other hospitals at this time. If this trajectory continues, staffing will remain the key issue for us and every hospital.”