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Overwhelmed by pandemic, Oaklawn officials urge renewed community effort

Medical staff at Oaklawn and nearby hospitals are facing burnout and insufficient patient beds even as they strive to provide care to afflicted COVID-19 patients while the pandemic continues in Michigan.

“Our emergency department and nursing supervision teams have been sounding the alarm the past few weeks,” said J. Summer Liston-Crandall, M.D., Oaklawn’s chief medical officer. “It has been incredibly difficult to transfer patients requiring higher levels of care to other hospitals in the region.”

“We are pulling staff from other departments when able to help assist with the emergencies and COVID-19 patients at the hospital,” said Theresa Dawson, Oaklawn’s chief nursing officer. “Our hospitalists are rounding in the emergency department when they can to help care for patients being boarded because of a lack of available beds. Other hospitals are not accepting transfers because of the volume at their own facility.”

Liston-Crandall and Dawson expect to meet with leaders of other regional hospitals to develop a coordinated plan for such transfers.

In recent days, regional healthcare coalitions have renewed a statewide effort to urge Michigan residents to join the fight against the virus.

Members of Oaklawn’s senior leadership team, including President and CEO Gregg Beeg, have been working with Region 5 representatives to shape a regional strategy focusing on the COVID-19 surge. Calhoun is one of nine southwestern counties that make up the Michigan trauma network designated as Region 5; the others are Allegan, Barry, Van Buren, Kalamazoo, Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch.

“The largest and most distressing challenge we are experiencing is getting patients appropriate care,” said Allison Field, D.O., who serves as medical director of Oaklawn’s emergency department and after-hours clinics.

“Our volume is at record high rates and we are doing our best to provide everyone with the best care possible,” she added.

Just prior to Thanksgiving, Oaklawn’s medical staff admitted record high numbers of COVID-19 patients to the hospital. The highest number of such patients – 20 – was recorded Nov. 22, Dawson said.

“The week before in Calhoun County, there was an average of 129 new positive cases each day,” she said.

“All surrounding hospitals are full, so if a patient has needs that exceed the resources Oaklawn can provide, we have difficulty getting them transferred to a higher level of care,” Field said. “This leads to extended patient stays in the emergency department as well as longer wait times, as we have only so many beds in the emergency department.”

Oaklawn officials are further alarmed by the prospect that the pandemic’s scope could lead to a reduction in medical staff.

“Our staff are exhausted and burned out,” Beeg said. “We need the community’s help to alleviate the current surge and to prevent future surges. Some staff are choosing to leave the industry altogether and vacant job openings are proving difficult to fill. Less staff and higher patient volume leads to stress on the system.”

Oaklawn medical staff stressed that community members can assist the effort. Calhoun County’s vaccination rate was reported as 48.4 percent on Nov. 22, Beeg said – a figure he described as extremely low.

“Our community needs to educate themselves on the benefits of getting a COVID-19 vaccine,” he said. “The majority of COVID-19 patients needing hospitalization or dying are unvaccinated individuals. Many of these hospitalizations and deaths could be avoided had the patients been vaccinated.”

“Even though we have seen breakthrough cases, vaccinated individuals are much less symptomatic and less likely to require hospitalization than those who are not,” Field said.

Proper masking of the nose and mouth also helps prevent the transmission of disease, she said.

About a dozen medical staff members comprise Oaklawn’s incident-command group, which meets twice weekly to focus on COVID-related challenges, and a vaccine committee meets weekly to discuss community-education issues, Beeg said.

“There are so many ongoing efforts to combat this virus and everyone is working diligently in their respective role to aid in efforts,” he said. “The lesson is that getting vaccinated, wearing a mask, washing hands and social distancing can help alleviate the stress on the hospitals regionally.”

Additional information is available online at oaklawnhospital.org/covid-dashboard.