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With DoD assistance ending, West Michigan hospitals see signs of hope

Mercy Health Muskegon and Spectrum Butterworth both had additional staff from the Department of Defense to begin 2022.

MICHIGAN, USA — On Jan. 7, Mercy Health Muskegon was so overwhelmed they needed to put up a tent outside the emergency room to increase patient care areas. This past Wednesday the tent came down, one of a few signs that things are shifting into a more manageable load for the lakeshore hospital.

“During the peak we had anywhere from 25 to 35 patients holding in the ER waiting for a bed,” said Gary Allore, president of Mercy Health Muskegon. “That number has come down to below 10 and sometimes zero patients holding.”

RELATED: Mercy Health Muskegon removes heated tents

Allore says the tent was not used all the time, but when it was needed, it was a game changer, allowing the main waiting room to hold beds and treat patients. Along with the tent, Mercy Health Muskegon hosted temporary staff from the Department of Defense to help handle the surge. In total Mercy saw an additional two physicians, five nurses, seven medics and an administrator to assist wherever was most needed.

Along with Mercy Health Muskegon, Spectrum Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids received federal assistance. Those extra staff members are expected to leave at some point in the next week, and will likely be sent to another part of the country experiencing overwhelmed hospitals.

“We’re very thankful to have them,” said Dr. Joshua Kooistra, Spectrum’s Chief Medical Officer. “We recognize that they may be needed in other places of the country more than they’re needed here now.”

RELATED: Federal medical staff to end deployment at West MI hospitals in early February

As the tent goes down in Muskegon and the federal help heads elsewhere in the country, leadership from both hospitals are confident in their staff to handle the needs of West Michigan. While capacity is still high (95% at Mercy Health Muskegon as of Friday), numbers are showing signs of improvement.

Allore says the severity of COVID patients has become more manageable, with less needing to spend time in the ICU. At Butterworth, Kooistra says cases have hit a plateau in the last two weeks.

Another big challenge both hospitals faced to start the year was staff illness. Hundreds of healthcare workers contracted COVID-19, forcing them to isolate, and removing them from the workforce.

As more and more nurses, doctors and other specialized hospital staff return to work from quarantine, the leadership are feeling good about the near future. Kooistra is hopeful that the recent surge will continue to drop into the summer, but speaks with a cautious optimism. He’s mindful to add a caveat of the unpredictability the pandemic has held over the past two years.

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