Two Michigan hospitals to add more beds on emergency basis amid RSV surge

Hannah Mackay
The Detroit News

The Michigan Department of Health has approved two hospitals' requests to temporarily add more beds on an emergency basis in response to a recent increase in patients hospitalized for respiratory viruses.

The Corewell Health Butterworth Campus in Grand Rapids, which includes the Helen DeVos Children's Hospital, requested 48 additional beds and the OSF Healthcare St. Francis Hospital in Escanaba requested 24.

"To meet the demands of children who are sick now and could become ill in the coming weeks, we are seeking emergency Certificate of Need approval from the State of Michigan to add 48 beds to the children’s hospital and to designate 117 beds as intensive care beds," Corewell Health spokeswoman Andrea Finnigan said in a statement. "While we hope we will not need all these beds, we want to be prepared to care for children who are ill."

The hospital has treated 241 RSV cases in the last week and RSV patients took up 20 of 49 occupied ICU beds and 31 of 81 non-ICU occupied beds as of Tuesday.

St. Francis Hospital, which is located in the Upper Peninsula, has seen an increase in respiratory illnesses in both adult and pediatric patients and has taken the proactive step of submitting an Emergency Certificate of Need for the temporary use of additional beds, according to a statement from the hospital.

"This is a preemptive step to best serve our community if there is an increase in hospitalizations or limited bed capacity at our regional transfer facilities. We have also taken additional precautionary measures to reduce the number of support persons permitted in our facility while continuing to restrict visitors to limit potential exposure," according to the statement.

The state health department regulates the number of beds in each hospital and the two hospitals that were approved can only operate additional beds on an emergency basis, department spokeswoman Chelsea Wuth wrote in a statement. She was unaware of any other applications on Wednesday but said the health department is ready to respond if received.

All of Michigan's nine hospitals with the capacity to operate Pediatric Intensive Care Units are functioning close to or at capacity due to respiratory viruses, including respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), Wuth said. RSV is a common virus that causes cold-like symptoms in adults but can be dangerous for some infants and young children.

"Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, like pediatric hospitals across the country, is surging with children who are sick with RSV," Finnigan said. "Combined with cold and flu season and COVID-19, we expect the current RSV surge could last for many weeks."

While almost all babies are exposed to the virus by the time they are 2 years old it can sometimes cause pneumonia and bronchiolitis, which may require hospitalization, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. RSV has been surging across the country since October and experts are unsure when the virus will peak and are concerned about simultaneous surges in influenza and COVID-19 this winter.

"Staffing ratios (the number of patients assigned to a single nurse) have increased and clinical and support staff from adult areas are being reassigned to pediatric areas to assist as the pediatric volume increases," Wuth said.

RSV is not individually reported or tracked by the health department like other viruses, such as COVID-19, so it is unclear what direction RSV cases are trending across the state, Wuth said.

"Bed availability is a single point snapshot in time each day and may not fully reflect daily increases," Wuth said. "Families with severely ill children should take that child to the closest emergency facility, not one that may or may not have an open bed. Providers will be able to assess the child and transfer them to a hospital with the correct level of care if necessary."

The health department encouraged all parents to vaccinate their children for influenza and COVID-19 if they are eligible. Everyone should stay home when sick, wash their hands frequently, cover coughs and sneezes and wear masks in public if they're concerned about spreading or contracting respiratory viruses.