Michigan Association of Health Plans

Vaccination is only way out, leaders say, and urge shots to help ease stress on hospital system

This article originally appeared in MLive. Read more here

Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is the best action to help hospitals handle the present onslaught of COVID-19 cases, stressing staff and overwhelming medical centers, healthcare leaders said.

“The only way we’re going to get through this is through vaccination, through immunization. We’re not going to treat our way through this,” Dr. Peter Hahn, president and CEO of University of Michigan Health-West in Wyoming, said at a recent press conference.

He and others were discussing the present coronavirus wave and its affect on hospitals struggling with staffing shortages and forced to make hour-to-hour decisions on what patients most need care.

Units are full — 10 state hospitals were reporting 100% capacity as of Thursday and overall, facilities were operating at 86%. Surgeries and other services are being delayed. Hahn said UM Health-West had to cancel or postpone more than 70 procedures in a recent two-week period.

One day this week, Sparrow Hospital in Lansing had 42 patients waiting in the emergency department for a bed, Chief Nursing Officer Amy Brown said.

The state set a record this week for the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19. It topped a previous mark set in the spring of 2020.

Nearly 22% of people in inpatient beds were COVID-19 positive. This number has been increasing for about 20 straight weeks. No other state or territory is reporting higher inpatient bed utilization, according to a recent state report.

The percentage of COVID-19 patients in hospitals statewide is higher than during the spring surge and the peak in December 2020, when the vaccine rollout first began.

The vaccines have been shown to be highly effective at preventing hospitalization and death, even if they don’t always ward off infection.

In September, an unvaccinated person had 14 times the risk of dying from COVID-19 compared to someone fully vaccinated, according to a look from April to Oct. 2 at national age standardized rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths presented in the latest Michigan COVID Response Data and Modeling Update.

In late November, 76% of hospitalized patients are unvaccinated and the percentage of those in intensive care or on ventilators jumped to nearly 90%, the Michigan Health and Hospital Association and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reported on Dec. 2.

From January to November, 13% of hospitalizations were of people fully vaccinated in Michigan.

Because Michigan residents 65 and older are inoculated at much higher rates than younger age groups, hospital leaders say patients now might be 40 to 60. During earlier waves, they were 70 to 80.

“They’re unvaccinated and they’re younger. And that just brings a different complexity with it, when you’re talking about end-of-life care for younger people as opposed to the elderly,” Brown said.

About 56% of eligible Michigan residents are fully vaccinated in Michigan. Week to week, the rate increases little; even with the Nov. 2 authorization of vaccines for children 5 to 11, the number of people who have been at least partially vaccinated jumped only about 5% in November, and in some areas of the state, such as the southern-most counties, the percentage is well below 50%. Michigan’s rate lags the national average.

“I want to highlight the communities with low vaccine uptake are vulnerable to further increases in COVID-19 cases, worse outcomes. That means more severe cases, more people in the ICU more deaths and more strain on health systems. And we simply cannot take this right now,” Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, the state’s chief medical executive, said during a press conference Friday.

Michigan leaders do not have plans to enact any orders or mandates to control spread. They are instead urging personal responsibility.

“I think that we can all agree we’re ready to be done with this pandemic,” Department of Health and Human Services Director Elizabeth Hertel said. “But this pandemic is not over. It is going to take all of us, and this is a critical moment.”

Consider where best to go for care, wash hands, wear masks

People also can help hospital staffs by going to an urgent or fast care center if possible, instead of an emergency department, Brown said.

This does not mean ignore an emergency. Hospital leaders said those who most need help are receiving it.

“I think we can say that we’re still providing high-quality care to our patients. We really stay focused on what care we’re delivering and motivating our teams. And they’re self-motivated,” said Shari Schult, vice president of operations at McLaren Northern Michigan in Petoskey.

Schult and others reminded people of safety measures pushed from the very beginning: Wear masks, distance from others and practice good hand hygiene.

“They’re crucial now. They have proven to work. They take minimal time,” said Dr. Paolo Marciano, chief medical officer, at Beaumont Hospital, Dearborn.

Give workers some grace, leaders say.

“I think just continuing keeping the healthcare workers in their thoughts as we go into the holidays and, you know, we’re going to be here to care for the community,” Brown said.

The Michigan Health and Hospital Association has asked the public to do the following:

  • If not already vaccinated, get vaccinated. Find a location for vaccination at vaccine.gov. Shots are free and available to those ages 5 and up at many pharmacies, doctors’ offices and health departments across the state.
  • If fully vaccinated, get a booster shot. This is now recommended for all adults.
  • Carefully consider where to seek healthcare. A primary care office, virtual visit or urgent care may be the best accommodation as hospital and emergency departments are seeing high demand.
  • Do not, however, avoid emergency treatment for: chest pain, difficulty breathing or significant injury.
  • Practice physical distance at indoor events and gatherings.
  • Wear a mask while in public indoors.
  • Get tested if experiencing symptoms or after a known COVID exposure. Limit interaction with others until a negative test and/or the recommended quarantine period has passed.
  • Regularly wash hands.
  • Recognize hospital and EMS staff are shorthanded and under pressure. “Extend patience and thoughtfulness to those who are working the hardest to support and care for our family members and friends.”
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