Omicron Variant Surge Has Hospitals Facing ‘Breaking Point’

With the omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus causing a tremendous surge in cases – the U.S. set a world record Thursday – local hospital systems are starting to feel a serious strain.

Beaumont Health, for instance, is currently caring for more than 750 COVID patients in its eight hospitals, officials said in a Thursday press release.

At Henry Ford Health System, officials reported in a press release Tuesday 480 patients were hospitalized or waiting to be admitted, a 25-percent increase in the past week. That included a child under 17 who was unvaccinated.

For the week of Dec. 26, Henry Ford reported that nearly 5,000 people had tested positive for COVID – the highest number seen in one week for the entire year in 2021.

At Beaumont, officials said 62% are unvaccinated. Over the past week, there has been a 40% increase in the number of COVID patients being treated at Beaumont. More than 430 Beaumont employees are also out with COVID symptoms.

“The omicron variant is one of the most contagious viruses we have seen in our lifetime,” Dr. Nick Gilpin, Beaumont’s medical director of infection prevention and epidemiology, said. “It’s more important than ever for the community to help contain the spread of this illness. Our health care systems are overwhelmed. If you have ignored our pleas for help before, now is the time to take action. We need everyone’s help to get through this fourth surge. Wear a mask. Get vaccinated. Get boosted.”

According to a vaccination graphic released on Monday, 65 percent of Henry Ford patients hospitalized for COVID were unvaccinated. Of 60 patients hospitalized in the ICU, 65 percent had not had any shots. Of the 22 patients on ventilators, 68 percent had not received any shots.

In addition, Dr. Adnan Munkarah, Executive Vice President and Chief Clinial Officr, said 95 percent of those hospitalized and in the ICU had not received their third vaccine dose, underscoring the benefit of a booster.

“It is clear that the vaccine continues to be protective, and the booster seems to have a significant effect in protecting people from getting into the hospital,” Munkarah said. With a decision by the CDC to approve a booster dose for children ages 12 – 15 imminent, Munkarah said parents should not delay scheduling a booster appointment for their children.

This week, Beaumont leadership requested each hospital strongly consider reducing elective surgical procedures, outpatient imaging and testing. By limiting elective medical care, the health system will be able to dedicate more staff to caring for patients that require care in the hospital. This includes COVID patients, trauma, oncology and acute medical issues.

Rising COVID positivity rates recently prompted Beaumont to take additional steps to proactively protect inpatients, staff and visitors at all eight of its hospitals.

“Support from family and friends is important, but so is protecting our patients and health care workers. Our goal is to help everybody get through this latest surge. To accomplish that, your compassion and understanding will go a long way. Please be kind to our staff. They are also struggling. They are doing their best to follow steps to protect the health and safety of all patients.”

Gilpin also stressed that the vaccine is still working and remains effective, particularly to help prevent COVID from progressing to more serious or even fatal consequences. However, he also added that more people need to get booster shots. Right now, only 8% of patients in the hospital have received a booster shot. That percentage is low, Dr. Gilpin said, because booster shots are helping to keep people out of the hospital.

Help arrives

To assist Beaumont staff during the ongoing fourth surge, the U.S. Department of Defense medical team will now spend an additional 30 days at Beaumont Hospital, Dearborn. The original 30-day medical mission was scheduled to end on Jan. 2. With the current ongoing COVID surge, the mission was extended to help patients in Southeast Michigan.  

“They’ve done phenomenal work alongside our amazing staff at Dearborn,” Beaumont, Dearborn Chief Operating Officer Tom Lanni said. “We were able to open additional beds in critical care, and our patients and staff have truly benefited from the expertise the DOD team has brought to our hospital. We feel fortunate to be able to work with DOD team members for an additional month.”

Henry Ford’s Munkarah said the health system is closely watching two areas of concerns: Bed closures and team members who are off work because of a COVID exposure due to community spread.

As of Monday, Jan. 3, 97 beds were temporarily closed across the health system due to staffing challenges. These included 52 at Henry Ford Hospital, 34 at Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital and 11 at Henry Ford Allegiance Health in Jackson. Together, these hospitals account for more than 1,550 beds out of the more than 2,000 across the health system.

In the past seven days, 686 team members tested positive for COVID and are recovering at home. That represents about 2 percent of the entire Henry Ford workforce. Team members are quarantined for seven days from the time their first symptom appeared. That quarantine time could be extended if their symptoms persist longer.

“Our first priority is to make sure we don’t infect our patients,” said Dr. Dennis Cunningham, Henry Ford’s System Medical Director of Infection Control and Prevention.

Ad campaign

To further emphasize the need for the community’s help and support during this challenging time, for the first time, Beaumont purchased full-page ads in local papers asking community members to help stop the spread of the virus.

Beaumont Health CEO John Fox added, “For the health care system to keep functioning, we must have the community’s support. We all need to work together on the critical preventive steps to control this new phase of the pandemic.”

The message titled, “We’re at a breaking point,” is designed to both show support for our staff and further emphasize to the community that this fourth surge is putting a severe strain on health care. Click here to view a preview of the ad.

What the community can do to help

  • Get vaccinated.
  • Get boosted.
  • Wear a mask.
  • Practice social distancing / limit gatherings.
  • Stay home if you’re feeling sick.
  • Talk to friends and family and encourage them to take action/get vaccinated/pay attention.