With SW MI hospitals strained, doctors call on all to get vaccinated

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KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — To say every day brings on a new pandemic-related challenge for Ascension Borgess Dr. Thomas Rohs would be an understatement.

“The reality is we have to continue to manage our operations and try to restrict the damage that the pandemic is causing and frankly, keep the doors open,” Rohs, the chief medical officer for the Kalamazoo-based hospital system, said.

As Michigan’s coronavirus surge continues and hospitals struggle to care for all the sick, Rohs and colleagues from around Southwest Michigan took to a podium at the Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine Tuesday in hopes their pleas will motivate skeptics to get vaccinated.

“The single most effective thing you can do is get vaccinated,” Rohs said. “Know this: Everyone in North America is either going to get vaccinated or you’re going to get COVID.”

PANDEMIC SURGE AFFECTS CARE FOR ALL

Doctors from Ascension Borgess, Bronson Healthcare and Oaklawn Hospital painted a grim picture of the situation in their hospitals. They said patients — both with COVID-19 and other ailments — stuck in the emergency room for days.

“The take-home message is that the pandemic is seriously damaging our ability to take care of all of you,” Rohs said.

It’s taking longer to admit patients, he and his colleagues said, both in their own hospitals and in their partner facilities. Sometimes those with serious illness have to be transferred as far as Detroit or across state lines to get the treatment they need.

Last week, Rohs said, he saw three patients wait a full day before admission.

“Those patients had a full day delay for needed surgeries, they had an extra day of pain and suffering they didn’t need to experience and they encountered a higher risk of having complications and problems as a result of that,” he said.

Meanwhile, doctors, nurses and other caregivers are exhausted. They’re treating more patients at a time and those patients are fatigued and angry because they have had to wait.

“(Caregivers) feel unsatisfied with the care they’re doing at their level, and they’re doing their level best to provide knowing that it is still suboptimal,” Rohs said.

PAST 4 WEEKS ‘THE MOST CHALLENGING’

Rohs said Ascension Borgess has more than 50 COVID-19 patients right now, accounting for a quarter of all inpatients. Fifteen of the 40 intensive care beds are being used by COVID-19 patients.

Things are just as bad at Bronson Healthcare, with system hospitals at or near their peak in terms of hospitalizations.

“This past month has been the most challenging of the pandemic for our health care teams. We’ve seen three of the last four weeks have had the highest number of cases for hospitalizations since early 2020,” Dr. Aaron Lane Davies, a 20-year pediatrician and chief of quality for Bronson Medical Group, said.

Last week alone, he said, 23 people in Bronson hospitals died from COVID-19.

“That’s the highest number of deaths in the Bronson system since the beginning of the pandemic,” Lane Davies said.

Smaller Oaklawn Hospital in Marshall said within the last two weeks, it has seen all its critical care beds and two-thirds of its other beds filled with COVID-19 patients. It has expanded its step-down unit to another floor, redirected nurses to care for sick patients and stopped nonessential services, including many routine wellness visits.

“We are in crisis,” Dr. Summer Liston-Crandall, chief medical officer for Oaklawn, said.

Lane Davies of Bronson said he was worried about how many children were getting coronavirus, saying as many as 35% of all positive tests in the last four weeks have been pediatric cases.

“Children can catch and transmit COVID-19,” he said.

While children and teens generally have less serious cases, Lane Davies said, they can develop serious symptoms like pneumonia and respiratory failure. They are also at risk of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C, which can be deadly or cause conditions that they will deal with forever.

“Of all the teenagers with COVID pneumonia I’ve taken care of over the last two years, every single of of those children has been unvaccinated,” Lane Davies said.

DOCTORS: GET VACCINATED

Health officials called on people to be diligent about mitigation practices.

“The ask right now is for the community’s help,” Dr. William Nettleton, the medical director for the Kalamazoo and Calhoun county health departments, said. “It’s to get vaccinated, wear your mask indoors and get tested.”

He also called on the federal government to make antigen tests more readily available to help identify cases and speed up treatment.

Bust most of all, the doctors urged people to get vaccinated, noting that while breakthrough cases happen, the vast majority of people hospitalized with and dying of the virus have not been fully vaccinated.

They also want want you to get vaccinated against the flu so that doesn’t contribute to the capacity problem.

Nettleton said that if you have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine, you should ask your family doctor about it. They can explain how the vaccine was tested and why it’s safe.

“A core challenge throughout the entire pandemic for our community and our nation has been trust,” Nettleton said. “The community physicians gathered here today … ask for your trust now about COVID-19, about the COVID-19 vaccine and what is happening in our health care systems.”

—News 8’s Joe LaFurgey contributed to this report.

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