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West Michigan health care coalition warns rising COVID cases, staff shortages, and needs of non-COVID patients are overwhelming health care systems

Emergency room hospital

Michigan's Region 6 Healthcare Coalition is calling on the public to help reduce the stress on medical systems by getting COVID-19 and seasonal flu vaccinations and by getting their kids 5 to 18 years vaccinated. It also is urging people to wear a mask in indoor public spaces, wash hands frequently, and engage in social distancing.

Region 6 is a thirteen county health care coalition that extends from Lake Michigan to the center of the state and includes Grand Rapids, Holland and Muskegon. It is served by 21 hospitals.

"The hospitals and EMS systems in our region are operating at extremely high capacity - and have been for weeks. While other areas of the country have seen the number of patients with COVID-19 decline, our numbers are on the rise," wrote Dr. Jerry Evans, medical director of the Region 6 Healthcare Coalition in a letter to the public. "We are also seeing more patients with other serious health issues that cannot be further delayed or ignored."

"The normal hospitalization for any patient is usually three and a half, maybe four days at the most," said Evans. "Now we're talking about people who are in the hospital for weeks with COVID. So that is keeping our beds occupied for much longer."

Evans said hospital overcrowding due to rising COVID cases is leading to longer wait times for emergency, urgent, and primary care, and is leading to postponement of non-emergency surgeries and other procedures for non-COVID patients.

"Our hospitals are full, and then our ERs are now getting full because there's not enough beds upstairs," said Evans. "So they're holding patients in the emergency department for anywhere from six hours to two or three days waiting for a bed upstairs."

Evans said ambulance transfers can also be delayed as large hospitals are not able to accept as many transfers from smaller hospitals.

Evans encouraged people to use their primary care doctor or urgent care for non-emergency needs.

He also urged those with "true" emergencies to go to the emergency department promptly so that their conditions, such as stroke and heart attack, do not worsen.

"Don't hold off," Evans said.

Evans expressed concern that if there's a surge in influenza combined with the current COVID-19 surge, capacity issues and the strain on health systems will get even more serious.

According to a Michigan Department of Health and Human Services press release on Wednesday, there was a recent outbreak of more than 525 cases of influenza A among University of Michigan students.

MDHHS said as of November 6, a little more than 2 million doses of flu vaccine have been administered in the state. That's approximately 26% fewer than the same time last year.

Virginia Gordan has been a part-time reporter at Michigan Radio since fall 2013. She has a general beat covering news topics from across the state.
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