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'A serious challenge': West Michigan ambulance services struggling amidst ER capacity issues

University of Michigan Health-West has had to divert some of their services because their Emergency Department is seeing an extremely high volume of patients.

KENT COUNTY, Mich. — The crisis in West Michigan's healthcare systems is now taking a toll on ambulance services and EMS.

On Thursday morning, 13 ON YOUR SIDE learned that University of Michigan Health-West had to divert ambulances Wednesday and for part of Thursday due to an overwhelming number of patients in their emergency room. 

As of Thursday afternoon, officials with the hospital confirmed that they were back to accepting patients, but 13 ON YOUR SIDE dug deeper into how ambulance companies are being affected by this fourth surge of the pandemic. 

Mark Meijer, the President of Life EMS, said that it has been a tough few weeks.

"I think all healthcare providers are finding it challenging times being that we're going into year two of the pandemic," he said.

Those healthcare providers include ambulance services, EMTs and paramedics.

"We're all working together," said Meijer, "and in a lot of cases, EMS providers are an extension of the hospital emergency department."

"We're all doing the best we can to work together to take care of the patients that need us," he added, "and we're just having to be more creative to try and make that happen in some cases."

That's the case for University of Michigan Health-West, who has had to divert some of their services because their Emergency Department is seeing an extremely high volume of patients. 

"All the hospitals throughout West Michigan are geared to take care of patients to the fullest," said Meijer, "and I think we all do a a good job of communicating with each other."

He added that above everything, though, it's still important to get care if you need it because that's adding to capacity issues.

"While there's certainly challenges with with capacity and staffing, please don't defer help," he said.

Meijer also said they are committed to hiring more EMS workers. This year, Life EMS has trained almost 200 EMT'S, and that doesn't included other training programs in West Michigan. 

"We've all seen different types of challenges over the years and this is at serious level of resource availability that we've got to get through," Meijer said, "and by all of us in the healthcare system working together, we will get through it."

University of Michigan Health-West told 13 ON YOUR SIDE the following:

"Diversion means that the current emergency patient load exceeds the Emergency Department's ability to treat additional patients promptly. It does not mean it's closed, just not accepting any additional patients via ambulance. So when we go on diversion, an ambulance would route patients to the next closest hospital that is open with capacity. Normally this happens for a few hours until the patient volume slows down or a problem is resolved.

At the same time, we continue to assess all hospital procedures and operations. This persistent surge of cases should serve as a wake-up call that we cannot afford to let down our guard against COVID-19. This includes getting vaccinated or a booster if eligible, and practicing safe habits."

13 ON YOUR SIDE also reached out to AMR in Grand Rapids but have not heard back at the time this article was published.

RELATED VIDEO: Local hospitals plead with community as capacities reach record highs

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