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West Michigan hospital system: 'We are starting to see more deaths' amid COVID surge

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

The 14-hospital Spectrum Health system is restricting COVID-19 testing, expanding intensive care capacity and deferring non-essential surgeries to cope with an explosion of coronavirus cases in West Michigan, health system officials said Wednesday.

"Even with these actions, the reality is that Spectrum Health and our hospitals across the state will be hitting their capacity in a matter of days, and so we must change this trajectory of community spread," Spectrum Health President and CEO Tina Freese Decker said during a call with media.

"We are starting to see more deaths in the last three weeks," she added. "The mortality rate for those hospitalized with COVID-19 in West Michigan is about one in every 10 people."

Security personnel check potential patients for COVID-19 symptoms outside the emergency department at Spectrum Health Hospital in Grand Rapids.

The health system's 14 hospitals had 289 patients hospitalized with the virus as of Wednesday. The current positivity rate for about 4,000 COVID-19 tests daily is 14%, Decker said. So many people are sick that, as of Wednesday, the health system only is testing people with symptoms to conserve testing supplies. 

Spectrum is working to increase COVID-19 beds at its hospitals, but is also concerned about having enough clinical staff to treat patients.

"We know our colleagues at other hospitals and facilities are experiencing the same exponential trend that we are experiencing, and that's quite different from the last time when there were places we could go throughout the state or country for staffing or for availability of services for people," Decker said. 

The surge in West Michigan is part of a statewide upswing that had 6,008 new cases reported Wednesday by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, with 42 more deaths.  Wednesday's numbers brought state totals to 229,285 confirmed cases and 7,766 total confirmed deaths since Michigan's first cases on March 10.

Cases have increased throughout the state, most notably in West Michigan, the Upper Peninsula and other rural areas that were largely unscathed last spring, when the pandemic raged in Southeast  Michigan.

Five of Trinity Health's eight Michigan hospitals are "pretty much full," said Dr. Rosalie Tocco-Bradley, chief clinical officer at Trinity, told The Detroit News on Tuesday.  

"Two of our largest hospitals, Mercy Muskegon and St. Mary in Grand Rapids, are being hit hard," she said. "Muskegon is full to the brim, and not only are they full, but they have a large number of staff who are quarantining."

Although there are not as many critical COVID-19 patients as there were in the spring, Tocco-Bradley said, hospitals are struggling and don't have enough beds to continue elective surgeries in Muskegon. Trinity started curtailing elective surgeries on Friday.

The pressures in West Michigan come as the nation set a record Tuesday with nearly 62,000 hospitalized, topping highs previously reached in late April and mid-July, according to statistics compiled by the COVID Tracking Project.

The state reported nearly 3,000 confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients hospitalized on Tuesday, more than 1,300 of them in West Michigan. The number of statewide confirmed cases in hospitals marks a 42% increase from just a week earlier.

The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units also climbed nearly 50% to 595 from a week ago, while patients on ventilators statewide rose 40% to 257, according to the state. Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state's chief medical executive, said she's "very concerned" about what she's seeing across Michigan.

New cases are five times the amount recorded in early September.

Staff Writer Sarah Rahal contributed.

kbouffard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @kbouffardDN