Feds approve military personnel for Spectrum, Beaumont; Northern Michigan hospitals seeking help

While two of Michigan’s largest hospitals — which plan to merge sometime this year — are getting help, Michigan’s northern hospitals are waiting in the wings for federal assistance as well.

War Memorial Hospital in Sault St. Marie is also asking for 22 nurses and two physicians to help alleviate staffing pressure, David Jahn, president and CEO of the Upper Peninsula hospital, told Crain’s.

“We have a 25 percent jobs vacancy with our nursing staff,” Jahn said. “We need these extra hands to come in for a period of time to give some relief to our staff and give some sanity to our employees.”

War Memorial currently has 14 COVID-19 inpatients, below its peak of 23 last spring. It’s non-COVID volume in the hospital’s emergency department that’s crushing its staff, Jahn said.

For the past four months, War Memorial’s ED has averaged roughly 1,500 monthly visits, up from an average of 1,200 monthly visits in 2018 and 2019. The hospital only has one ER doctor on staff per 12 hour shift, Jahn said.

“We can handle 30 to 40 patients per day, but we’re getting 60 or more right now,” Jahn said.

Jahn said he hopes the federal medical personnel can assist War Memorial with providing monoclonal antibody therapies to COVID patients. The hospital has administered about 300 of the therapies, which are time consuming, in its ER. The antibody therapy reduces the threat of death from the virus by as much as 70 percent for high-risk patients.

“A couple of nurses and a physician (from the feds) to run a monoclonal clinic would really help to alleviate pressure on our ER doctors,” Jahn said.

Rural hospitals are full of patients for a variety of reasons. Some of the overflow is caused by the supply chain of getting patients transferred to other hospitals for care as there is a shortage of ambulance drivers and paramedics. Other issues include short staffed nursing homes and psychiatric facilities without the ability to accept patients, thus leaving those patients stuck in a hospital bed.

Other rural hospitals simply can’t afford to pay the growing overtime and large bills from staffing agencies as reimbursement hasn’t kept in line with higher costs during the pandemic.

“At this point we can’t continue to pay for temporary staff … we can’t continue to afford to do that and not getting extra reimbursement from Medicare or Medicaid or the Blue Cross Blue Shield,” Jahn said. “We have to allow our staff to go on vacation or at least relieve them from the extra shifts they are taking.”

MDHHS did not confirm whether it has filed for federal assistance for the state’s Northern hospitals.

Jahn did not know the timeline either.

Michigan reported 17,008 new cases of COVID-19 and 83 deaths Monday, an average of 5,669.3 cases over a three-day period. Of the 83 deaths announced Monday, 32 were identified during a review of records.

— Editor’s note: A previous version of this story did not include the second request for federal personnel, which was approved on Wednesday. The current version is accurate.

This story first appeared in our sister publication, Crain’s Detroit Business.

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