U-M Health leaders: COVID-19 surge putting strain on faculty, staff

December 9, 2021  //  FOUND IN: Strategy & Leadership, ,
U-M Health leaders held a press conference on Wednesday.

On Wednesday, leaders from U-M Health went public with the dire situation the organization is facing due to the recent wave of COVID-19 cases, which has put a physical and emotional strain on faculty and staff and affected patient care.

The hope is that by speaking out, individuals will be spurred into action to help ease the burden on health care workers.

“The bottom line is that the surge of COVID-19 is putting others at risk and keeping us from delivering lifesaving care,” said Marschall Runge, M.D., Ph.D., CEO of Michigan Medicine. “People are dying at home all across the state and the nation because [Michigan Medicine and other hospitals] are full. People have died, and will die, of non-COVID-19 disease in our area and across the nation. COVID-19 is overrunning our hospitals.”

On Monday, U-M Health had 112 total COVID-19 admissions of adults and children.

These increases have forced the organization to reduce its surgical volume by 20%, which is far more than an inconvenience, said David Miller, M.D., M.P.H., president of U-M Health.

“We just don’t have the beds,” Miller said. “This week alone we’ve canceled more than 40 cases. These are heartbreaking decisions that have significant health impacts for the patients and significant consequences for the families who are also affected by these cancelations.”

Additionally, emergency services are experiencing heavy crowding and overflow, consistent with emergency departments across Michigan. The surge, however, is NOT a reason to skip going to the emergency department if a patient needs emergency care, Miller said.

“We are asking everyone to carefully consider the need for care in the emergency department, so we can ensure access for very sick patients in need of immediate care,” he said. “Patients who are having an emergency — who believe their life, limb or body function is at serious risk — we are here to take care of you. However, for more routine care, please consider other options if they are available to you. Call your doctor, schedule a virtual visit, go to an urgent care center or even send a message through your online portal if this is an available option.”

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, seek immediate emergency care:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Difficulty speaking or sudden vision changes
  • Persistent chest pain or pressure
  • Weakness in the arm, leg or face
  • Serious bleeding or deformed and/or discolored limbs after injury

The U-M Health team is concerned and anxious about cases increasing further as Michiganders gather for holiday events, particularly if unvaccinated individuals are attending. Physicians advise not gathering if you feel sick and to wear masks if in close proximity to others in indoor spaces if not everyone is vaccinated.

As of Dec. 8, the hospital had 87 COVID-19 hospitalizations, with the majority of patients unvaccinated. Six of 22 ICU patients with COVID-19 were vaccinated and all nine patients on ventilators were unvaccinated.

The importance of vaccination

The vaccine is the way out of this pandemic and how we can stop avoidable hospitalizations and loss of life that have been going on too long, said John Carethers, M.D., chair of the department of internal medicine.

“Vaccination will help to prevent you from coming to our hospital or [ending up] in the ICUs, which are extremely crowded at this time,” Carethers said. “In our hospital, we’ve seen younger, healthy people die — but those people were not vaccinated. There have been breakthrough infections, but those who are vaccinated who end up in the hospital overwhelmingly have additional health problems.

“There is often variable immune response to this disease, and the best defense to have a robust immune system and prevent COVID-19 is to get vaccinated. There’s a lot of misinformation out there, it’s rampant, and that has led to the death of many people.”

U-M Health care team members are exhausted after 20 months of unrelenting fighting in this pandemic, said chief nurse executive Nancy May, D.N.P., RN-BC.

“Nurses and other care team members feel frustrated when we know that vaccines are available, yet many have selected not to get vaccinated. These patients often end up in our ICUs and on ventilators. Health care professionals are leaving because of the pandemic. The compassion fatigue they feel… is taking a toll.

“There are not enough words to express my gratitude for these dedicated professionals who continue to help care for [all our patients] but they need relief.”

Click here to watch the entire press conference.