LMAS Health Department and four U.P. hospitals report updates and challenges regarding COVID cases

Eastern UP

A hospital bed (Nexstar, file)

LUCE, MACKINAC, ALGER AND SCHOOLCRAFT COUNTIES, Mich. (WJMN) – LMAS District Health Department says they have been working closely for more than 18 months with Helen Newberry Joy Hospital, Mackinac Straits Health System, Munising Memorial Hospital, and Schoolcraft Memorial Hospital. Additional health care partners include the Region 8 Health Care Coalition and local Emergency Managers.

LMAS reports that in the four counties from August 1, 2020 to October 12, 2020 they added 184 cases and no deaths. From August 1, 2021 to October 13, 2021, they have added 1,295 cases in the four counties and four deaths. This represents a 604% increase in cases from the same time period in 2020. LMAS says this is taking a toll on families, communities, and on health care and public health capacity to continue to test, conduct case investigations, contact tracing, along with caring for patients with and without COVID.

The following information comes from each of the hospitals they are working with – brief snapshots of the challenges they are facing in what is the largest surge we have had in the four counties.

Helen Newberry Joy Hospital reports that during the month of October, they have administered 38 monoclonal antibody treatments (an infusion or injection which can help keep a person with COVID from getting seriously ill and having to be hospitalized). For the month of September, 48 treatments were administered. During recent weeks hospital staff conducted an average of 50-60 COVID tests daily. Transferring patients to hospitals with higher levels of care has been a growing challenge. Recently two very critically ill patients remained at the hospital for 12 or more hours, with one COVID patient needing to be intubated because there was no place to transfer the patient to.

Lori Gelinas, RN, and Infection Prevention and Employee Health Nurse, stated “We are not a critical care hospital but we feel like we are at times serving in that role due to other hospitals being unable to accept transfers”.

Mackinac Straits Health System is facing similar challenges.

“In St. Ignace, we continue to see an increase in the number of patients presenting with COVID-19 symptoms, especially in our Fast Care Clinic and Emergency Room,” said Karen Cheeseman, President and CEO of the Mackinac Straits Health System. “Our staff has done an amazing job of caring for members of the community, while balancing the increased volumes and barriers with patients and visitors.”

The hospital also noted increasing difficulties with transferring patients in need of higher levels of care – some COVID, some are other critically ill patients, but staffing issues at other hospitals, reduced EMS availability, and other issues continue to make it difficult to get patients to the care they need.

At Munising Memorial Hospital, Christi Salo, Chief Nursing Officer, states the challenges are much the same as other area hospitals. MMH recently started monoclonal antibody treatments, but can only do two a day due to staffing shortages. Testing has increased as well. The hospital has been able to keep some COVID patients in-house, but for those needing critical care, the most difficult challenge is finding a hospital that can accept them and then how to transfer them. “Bed and staffing shortages are making this more challenging. Transfer wait times are now running 12-30 hours.”

At Schoolcraft Memorial Hospital, CEO, Bob Crumb reports that as numbers of COVID cases continue to rise in the area, their staff behind the scenes continue to do everything to provide care, testing, and vaccinations. “Staffing shortages and difficulty transferring patients has been our biggest struggle, especially during this largest surge we have experienced locally and staff are exhausted.” The hospital has prioritized testing, vaccine distribution and treatment. Like the other hospitals, SMH is providing monoclonal antibody infusions and injections, both at the hospital and offsite at the Nicolet Business Center.

All four hospitals and LMAS District Health Department have the same message to their residents – wear a mask fully covering your mouth and nose in public spaces, get vaccinated, maintain distance from those not in your immediate household, get tested for COVID, stay home when you don’t feel well.

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