Overcrowded MI Hospitals Divert Ambulances

The photo shows a the side of a white ambulance with the back door open.
File Photo

Victoria Ritter

Midland Daily News, Mich.

(MCT)

Due to the strain of overcrowded facilities and staff shortages, hospitals around the Great Lakes Bay Region are diverting ambulances to other healthcare facilities.

Dr. Danny Greig, medical director of the Emergency Department at MidMichigan Medical Center-Midland, said the hospital has had to divert ambulances three to four times in recent months. Greig, who has worked at the Midland hospital since 1994, has never seen the issue of ambulance diversion come up until recently.

“This is very unusual,” Dr. Greig said. “This is definitely a brand-new phenomenon.”

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The decision to divert ambulances is a very serious matter and is considered by administration and the emergency department. Greig explained the cause for diversion isn’t due to the emergency department being overcrowded, but the whole hospital not having enough beds and not enough staff to administer to their needs.

“We get to the point when we don’t have the facilities to care for folks,” Dr. Greig said.

However, there are a few exceptions. MidMichigan Medical Center-Midland doesn’t close its emergency room to patients in the county. Also, if a Midland County patient being brought in by an ambulance is in extremis — having a critical and unstable condition — they are not diverted.

When a decision to divert ambulances is made, ambulatory services is notified and it is up to emergency medical technicians (EMTs) to determine which hospital to go to, depending on how close it is and if beds are available. While EMTs try to transport patients to area facilities, Greig said that sometimes they’ve had to travel as far as Hurley Medical Center in Flint.

“We’ve had to divert some people out of county,” Dr. Greig stated. “In a lot of ways, the system is broken right now.”

In turn, the Midland hospital has been a diversion point for area hospitals including Covenant HealthCare in Saginaw, Ascension St. Mary’s in Saginaw and McLaren Hospital in Bay City.

The need for ambulatory division is assessed every few hours by administration. According to Greig, the Midland hospital hasn’t been on diversion for more than eight to 10 hours.

The Midland hospital is currently doing well and isn’t diverting ambulances. As of Monday, the hospital reported being at 76% capacity overall with 41 COVID-19 patients and 11 in the ICU. One of the largest issues is a lack of staff. Greig explained the nation is facing a nursing shortage and the Midland hospital is short-staffed for most of the time, as nurses are stepping away from direct patient care and not coming back. He hopes the MidMichigan Health’s administration will expand their training for nurses to bring the staffing up to normal.

The Midland hospital’s emergency department has seen record volumes for the last four months, but Greig is hopeful that patient numbers will eventually go down.

“I don’t think the volumes that we’re seeing can continue,” Greig said.


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