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For the fourth time, Michigan doctors, nurses warn of growing strain on health system

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio

As healthcare workers head into what appears to be yet another surge in COVID hospitalizations, watching emergency rooms and intensive care units fill up for the fourth time, as they juggle staffing shortages with bone-deep exhaustion, this time feels different. 


“Unlike previous surges, we finally have free, widely available, highly effective and safe vaccines available to protect you and your family,” chief medical and nursing officers from more than 20 hospitals wrote in a public letter released Wednesday. 

They say they are “frustrated to see so many unvaccinated individuals admitted to our hospitals and dying from serious complications of COVID-19 infection. Nationally, approximately 99% of

individuals dying from COVID-19 are unvaccinated. This is a preventable tragedy.” 

More than 1,200 adults and 20 children are hospitalized for COVID in Michigan, almost three times as many as a month ago. Combined with severe staffing shortages and an influx of COVID and non-COVID demand on emergency rooms, once again hospitals and intensive care units are filling up. 

“Unfortunately, as the situation worsens, this hinders our ability to care for other patients who are experiencing serious illnesses such as stroke, heart attacks, diabetic complications, obstructive lung disease and trauma regardless of their vaccination status,” the healthcare workers write.

“We are seeing very, very heavy traffic in our emergency departments,” said Dr. Adnan Munkarah, Chief Clinical Officer at Henry Ford Health System. “And the fact that our hospital’s at full capacity, which essentially delays people getting admitted to the hospital, we’ve been really seeing some delays in our emergency departments.” 

That’s exacerbated by what Henry Ford’s Chief Nursing Officer, Barbara Rossman, described as “the worst shortage of registered nurses in history.” 

“Some of this shortage we did anticipate due to our aging workforce, and in regions with a higher percentage of aging residents who need more hospitalized care,” she said Wednesday. “The pandemic, however, is making the nursing shortage much more profound.”

So far, Henry Ford hasn’t had to delay any elective surgeries, Munkarah said. 

“However, we are concerned that if the numbers continue to climb where they are, with the workforce shortage and if our hospitals start to fill up more with COVID...we’ll have to do that. Fortunately, we've not had to do any major rescheduling at the present time. There might have been a case or two that has had to be postponed a day or two, but we have not had to go to any major holding off or stopping any specific clinical services at the present time.” 

But they are watching closely as more students return to school in the coming weeks. 

“I can tell you one of our biggest concerns with the return to school at the present time, is if we don't have enough people vaccinated, and people are not following the mitigation and protection guidelines that are out there for masking and social distancing, we might see another surge that takes us in the wrong direction,” he said. 


Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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