Almost every industry across the state over the past 18 months has been affected by a labor shortage.
Included in the labor shortage situation are health care staff, who are needed now more than ever as daily COVID-19 infections continue to surge across the state and in Northern Michigan.
Dr. Christine Nefcy, chief medical officer with Munson Healthcare, said Munson Healthcare — like many health care systems across the State of Michigan — is suffering from staffing issues for a variety of reasons.
Munson Healthcare, like other Michigan health systems including Ascension, Beaumont, Bronson, Henry Ford, Spectrum and University of Michigan, announced last month policies for staff to require COVID-19 vaccinations.
Munson Healthcare officials said the decision is a proactive move in anticipation of a federal requirement.
Specific details regarding a plan to require vaccinations for any business which employs 100 or more workers have not been released yet, but are expected to come soon.
John Karasinski, communications director for the MichiganHealth and Hospital Association, said it still remains to be seen what the actual policy details will be.
“However, our biggest concern is the potential impact on staffing,” Karasinski said. “While it creates a national standard for healthcare providers and facilities, it could result in employees in non-clinical positions leaving hospitals for other industries and smaller workplaces not impacted by the employer mandate.”
Other systems including McLaren have yet to make the COVID shot mandatory, but rather strongly encourage all employees to get vaccinated.
“Everybody is quite busy with non-COVID related issues as well as COVID, so all of (health care systems) are seeing the same thing,” Nefcy said. “What we have noticed here in Northern Michigan is our ability to transfer some of our sickest patients out of the system to other entities which would have traditionally taken them is taking much longer.
“We are having much longer waits in our emergency departments for people who need to be hospitalized,” Nefcy added. “The pressure is really everywhere across the state and our ICU beds continue to increase in occupancy.”
A story published recently in Bridge Michigan mentioned emergency department visits are up 43% in the last year in Michigan.
Additionally, studies have repeatedly shown emergency department overcrowding increases the risk of a patient to get sicker, or even die.
“Across our system we often see single digits in terms of critical care beds we have available and we are seeing the same thing with pediatric critical care beds,” Nefcy said. “The situation is definitely worse.”
Lisa Peacock, health officer with the Health Department of Northwest Michigan, said earlier this week the recent surge of new COVID-19 infections in the health department’s four-county jurisdiction of Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego counties, at times “is almost unmanageable.”
Some days, Peacock added, the health department is approaching 100 daily infections.
“Those numbers definitely stress our public health capacity,” Peacock said. “It’s sad to say we’re not out of the woods yet.”
Data from the Michigan Health and Hospital Association recently reported nationally, 80% of nursing leaders have reported an increase in nurse turnover during the pandemic.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there are more than 1.4 million health care jobs open across the country, and a 2021 study by Incredible Health found the demand for intensive care and emergency nurses grew by 186% over the past year.
Brian Peters, CEO of the Michigan Health and Hospital Association, said last month in a story in the Detroit Free Press that Michigan’s hospitals have been facing a critical staffing shortage that neared a crisis point as hospitals struggle to manage patients with COVID-19.
“The issue is staffing,” said Peters, whose association represents all 133 community hospitals in the state. “You could have all the (hospital) beds in the world, but if you don’t have an adequate number of nurses, physicians, other health care providers to staff those beds, that’s where we run into a problem.”
Peters said what’s different now as opposed to at the start of the pandemic is many have chosen to either leave the industry or retire.
“We have lost a number of health care employees,” Peters said in the Detroit Free Press. “Many have chosen early retirement. The pandemic has forced them to make that difficult decision.
“We know that many have left the hospital or health care setting altogether to see employment in another setting for a variety of reasons. And so we know that right now, our staffing is stressed to a level that we have not seen previously.”
Nefcy said earlier this week that hospitals across the state are now about to head into their busiest part of the year as seasonal illnesses such as influenza and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) are expected in conjunction with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“Those common winter illnesses frequently tax health care systems regardless of being in a pandemic,” Nefcy said.