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Beaumont's 10 Emergency Departments "nearly full"

wayne emergency center
Beaumont Health System
Hospitals are seeing a "perfect storm" of rising COVID cases, staffing shortages, and severe health issues that may have been the result of people delaying treatment during the pandemic.

If you don’t have to go to an Emergency Department at Beaumont right now, don’t.

That’s the message from Beaumont Health physicians, who on Wednesday pleaded with the public to help reduce the “extreme” patient loads that have overwhelmed the health system’s 10 Emergency Departments.

“A majority of the time, there are more patients than rooms available,” said Dr. David Donaldson, the Emergency Center chief at Beaumont Hospital in Troy. “ So we have done things like seeing patients, and if you're stable, moving you temporarily into a hallway area. [They’re] still attended by nursing and physicians and providers. But you may be in the room and then moved out to make room for other people.”

That’s not to discourage those with true medical emergencies, Donaldson stressed. “If you think you may have a minor issue, you may want to seek other care, such as even calling your own doctor, or urgent care.”

“But if you by any means think that you have an emergency, we’re there to serve you. You just may have to be a little more patient...there may be a bit of a wait a little more than you’re used to.”

The health system, like so many in the region, is weathering a “perfect storm” of stressors, said Beaumont CEO John Fox. COVID cases are rising, yes, but they’re only about 10% of all patients. The “overwhelming majority” are those with other serious health conditions.

“Many people delayed getting tests and treatment for medical issues because of their concerns about the pandemic,” Fox said in a statement. “Now, more than a year and a half after the pandemic began, those delays in care are resulting in medical emergencies.”

Closing 180 beds due to staffing shortages 

And the system’s experiencing a staffing shortage so severe, they’ve had to close 180 beds. Henry Ford Health System announced earlier this week that it’s had to close more than 100 beds, for similar reasons.

“To our knowledge, we have never had to temporarily close this many beds before,” said Beaumont spokesperson Mark Geary. “The beds are equally spread out across all 8 hospitals and include regular medical floors, procedural areas and intensive care units.”

It’s not a doctor or nurse practitioner shortage, Donaldson said. Much of the need is for nurses, nursing techs and assistants, respiratory therapists, phlebotomists, and even people trained to clean hospitals.

“It’s really become more of a staffing issue than a space issue,” he said. “...It's a trickle down in terms of the patients that are in the [emergency centers] at a given time. Because the staffing issue is not only in the emergency centers, but it's throughout the hospitals. So if there's decreased nursing upstairs, those patients will potentially sit in the emergency center for a period of time, until they get an inpatient bed, due to that same issue.”

Growing fatigue, frustration among staff 

The staff they do have are exhausted by the continuous waves of this pandemic, said Dr. Christopher Carpenter, infectious diseases specialist and chair of Internal Medicine at Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak. And they’re frustrated by the influx of unvaccinated patients.

“That strain on folks doesn't help,” Carpenter said. “And I think overall, the frustration when we have vaccines that could limit and prevent illness in people, and people are hesitant to get the vaccine? We need more education out there with regard to getting vaccinated.”

“Fatigue and frustration is really a big part of it,” Donaldson said. “And like Dr. Carpenter said, when there is a known way to prevent this [virus] for the most part, and people are not getting this, health care workers are getting frustrated with that. And I think if there's alternative places to go work, I think people are doing that.”

People can help, Carpenter said, by getting vaccinated. And by donating blood, a resource that’s running perilously short right now.

“That's a huge thing that people could do. I don't think it's well communicated in the media,” he said to reporters. “So if you guys can really kind of beat the drum on this, that we have a huge problem with blood supply in southeastern Michigan.

“And again, it's not just Beaumont. There are other systems dealing with this, where we're looking at surgeries. And can we provide this surgery, because of the risk of blood loss? Because we may not have enough of a blood supply.”

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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