COVID-19 hitting Michigan hospitals, forcing patients to be sent out of state for care

Posted at 6:42 PM, Dec 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-16 18:42:59-05

DETROIT (WXYZ) — Patients are being sent out of state for care. Hospitals are canceling some surgeries.

This is not the situation many expected as we marked the one year anniversary of the availability of COVID-19 vaccines in Michigan, but it is our reality.

In the last year, more than six million Michiganders ages 5 and older have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Henry Ford Health System Medical Director of Infection Control Dr. Dennis Cunningham says that helped our health system and saved lives.

“If we didn’t have these vaccines, I am sure we would have many more hundreds of thousands, if not millions, more dead in this country,” Cunningham said.

Still, about four million Michiganders remain unvaccinated.

Doctors say vaccines work and they are safe. What they have learned is that vaccine protection weakens after six months, leading to more breakthrough cases as time goes on. This led to the recommendation of people get boosters. However, even when there are breakthrough cases, the vaccine statistically decreases the severity of symptoms.

“Most of the people admitted to the hospital have not had any vaccination. We are starting to see a few people who were vaccinated get admitted to the hospital, but they tend to be much less severe and they tend not to get intubated,” Cunningham said.

This is key for the hospitals right now. The Henry Ford Health System and Michigan Medicine announced they are canceling some scheduled surgeries because they simply don’t have resources to care for the number of people sick with COVID-19 and those recovering from surgery.

Some hospitals are being forced to send patients out of state for critical care because local hospitals are at their limit.

“Our ability to receive patients as we have in the past is restricted,” said Dr. Brad Uren, University of Michigan Associate professor of Emergency Medicine. “I am hearing from colleagues from all over the state that are sending patients to other states — to Indiana, to Ohio. And making more than a dozen calls to try to find a place to have these patients cared for. These are the realities right now.”

Uren and others are concerned the situation will only get worse as people gather for the holidays and potentially as the omicron variant spreads.

“This affects everyone. Everyone watching this will have a loved ones or themselves need emergency care at some point,” Uren said.

The state of Michigan has identified three cases of the omicron variant. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services says it sequences about 400 samples a week to monitor for variants, relying on statistical analysis.

It takes days or even a week for results to come back. Cunningham says he suspects there are a significant number of omicron cases in the community already. Cunningham says even if omicron is found to cause less severe symptoms, if it spreads rapidly, it could be disastrous.

“Even if a smaller number are admitted to the hospital, it still could push us past the tipping point in terms of how many patients we are trying to care for,” Cunningham said.

Doctors say we typically see a surge in cases after every holiday where people gather.

To be as safe as possible at holiday gatherings, Michigan Medicine is recommending people get vaccinated, wear masks, gather in well-ventilated areas, test before the gathering and stay home if sick.

“I think it is going to get worse in early January because of the holidays. And also we know omicron, the newest variant is even more contagious than delta was,” Cunningham said.

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