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'There's just so many people': Emergency rooms, hospital beds in West Michigan are overflowing

"What I see right now in our hospital is a Delta variant surge that's fueled primarily by the unvaccinated folks," said Steve Polega.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — As more people find themselves in need of immediate medical care, many are having to wait longer to get it. Three major medical networks in West Michigan agree that it's a growing problem.

"Our hospitals are overflowing, ICUs are overflowing, and we're all quite busy," said Dr. Jerry Evans, Chief of Emergency Medicine at Mercy Health Muskegon. 

Dr. Evans says there it is a problem throughout the country and right here in Michigan.

"We're holding a lot of patients in the emergency department," he said, "sometimes up to 24 hours waiting for a bed upstairs because there's just not room upstairs."

Dr. Evans emphasized that a huge issue they're seeing right now is that people are coming in very sick and having to stay at the hospital longer than usual.

"Usually the length of stay is about 3.8 days, now we're up to 4.5 days," he added. 

METRO Health is feeling similar burdens. 

"As the hospital fills up, our lengths of stay are going up," said Steve Polega, Chief Nursing Officer at METRO Health.

"Our ICU has been quite full, and that just backs up everything," he added.

Polega said their emergency department volumes have been up about 20% in the last several months. 

"We want people to come in, and we can never stop people from coming in the door, but right now our waits have probably doubled in the last month," said Polega. 

He added that METRO Health's urgent care volumes have also doubled in the past month. 

"There's just so many people," he said.

Polega also stressed that they've had to postpone elective surgeries because there are not enough beds in the hospitals, plus they keep getting more patients every day.

"What I see right now in our hospital is a Delta variant surge that's fueled primarily by the unvaccinated folks," said Polega.

And as for Spectrum Health, "it's been a very busy August and September," said Dr. Nicholas Kuhl, "and our staff and our patients are noticing it."

Kuhl is the Medical Director of Adult Emergency Medicine for Spectrum Health.

"Over the last couple of weeks, some of our departments are five even 30% above the baseline numbers of patients needing our care," Kuhl added. 

Dr. Erica Michiels is the Associate Medical Director for the Helen DeVos Children's Hospital's Emergency Department. She echoed Kuhl's concerns. 

"This time of year we're usually seeing about 160 patients a day, but now we're at more like 200 patients a day, with some nights surging up to 220 to 240 visits per day," said Dr. Michiels, "so that's quite an increase in volume for us."

All four doctors emphasized that sometimes people come to the emergency room for issues that could have been helped or treated through other avenues. They agreed that addressing that problem could help decrease the amount of people waited to be treated.

"We're asking patients to more deliberately think about seeking emergency care, and also more deliberately evaluate the choices that are available in the community such as their primary care doctor, urgent cares and virtual options before they come to the emergency department," said Dr. Erica Michiels.

All four medical professionals also agreed that with the increased wait times and the nationwide staffing shortages, it's always important to be kind to healthcare workers and staff. 

"They're every bit of heroes as they were 18 to 12 months ago as they are now," said Steve Polega, "and they're getting hit pretty hard right now and just please have some grace on them and thank them."

Dr. Kuhl and Dr. Michiels from Spectrum Health spoke about several topics regarding their emergency rooms and hospitals Friday afternoon to the press via Zoom. 

They were also joined by their colleague, Dr. Rima Shah, Primary Health Department Chief for Spectrum Health.

You can watch that full update below:

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