Michigan hospitals in ‘dire’ situation with highest hospitalization rate in country, workforce assistance bills needed says MHA

Michigan set its record high for COVID-19 hospitalizations at nearly 4,700 patients last week and currently has the highest COVID-19 hospitalization rate in the U.S at 47 per 100,000 residents. 

Adam Carlson, senior vice president of advocacy at Michigan Health and Hospital Association (MHA), says the biggest issues surrounding the new wave stem from staffing shortages. However, he says a recently introduced bill—HB 5523—will greatly assist the retention and recruitment of the health care workforce with a $300 million grant to employers.

 

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When Carlson describes how the recent wave is affecting hospitals in Michigan, he says:

“The current situation facing our hospitals and health systems is dire, given this most recent peak.”

Currently, 85.4% of Michigan’s inpatient beds are in use statewide. The 14-day change for hospitalizations is up 13%, which is actually a slowdown from the previous 14-day change, says Carlson. 

 

Image: The New York Times

 

Carlson says he is not sure why Michigan’s hospitalization and case numbers are worse than neighboring states and the rest of the country. He says this surge also looks different than the last three COVID surges. 

“It increased relatively slowly at the beginning, but it has really jumped up recently over the last several weeks. It doesn’t really look the same as the previous three surges where we went up, peaked, then went down fairly quickly. This has been a more gradual rise.”

COVID cases have also skyrocketed recently. As of Dec. 6, Michigan recorded a number of cases higher than the previous year’s surge, when there was no available COVID vaccine made to the public. 

Carlson says this surge is primarily impacting people who are not vaccinated. He says 76% of all COVID patients statewide are unvaccinated and 87% of COVID patients in the ICU are unvaccinated. He also says 88% of COVID patients currently on a ventilator are unvaccinated. 

Coupled with the rise of unvaccinated COVID patients and regular hospitalizations, hospitals have a 10% higher utilization rate than last year at this time, says Carlson. Emergency departments (EDs) have a 40% increase in patients as well since this time last year. 

The declining health care workforce in the state is one of the major reasons hospitals, EDs, and ICUs are so strained and lack capacity, says Carlson. Michigan has lost 875 staffed beds when comparing the average daily total of staffed inpatient beds year-over-year. Carlson says in Nov. 2020, there was an average of 21,071 average daily total staffed inpatient beds. That figure declined to 20,196 in Nov. 2021. 

However, MHA points to HB 5523 as a way to assist health care employers in retaining and recruiting more professionals. The bill would appropriate $300 million in funding to employers and provide more assistance to monoclonal antibody distribution. Since hospitals are so short staffed, the bill would set up a system for monoclonal antibody treatment through state assistance and give resources—in forms of staffing or funding—for those treatments. 

The bill also allocates a separate $300 million to support the COVID testing of K-12 students in school to better protect the school environment from the virus.

A substitute for the bill was adopted last week, officially setting the funding allocated to the bill. 

Carlson also highlights the usefulness of SB 759, which would give out of state providers an exemption to Michigan specific licensure to work in the state. Carlson says that thousands of needed providers have used this flexibility due to COVID, which is set to expire on Jan. 11. 

The bill recently passed in the Senate and lies for its second reading on the House floor.