As of Wednesday, Michigan Medicine has canceled at least 40 surgeries this week as it deals with the latest surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations.
The Ann Arbor health system is pulling staff and resources from its surgical teams to aid in the treatment of the 93 COVID-19 inpatients and rising levels of patients in its emergency rooms, administrators told reporters on a media call Wednesday.
The administrators held the call as a means to beg the public to get vaccinated.
"Patients who don't receive timely surgery are dying," said Marschall Runge, CEO of Michigan Medicine and medical school dean. "(The unvaccinated) are risking the lives of others who may die from preventable diseases who can't get their healthcare."
David Miller, physician and president of the University of Michigan Health System, said the current surge is overwhelming its system and leaving it no choice but to cancel surgeries. Coupled with the ongoing labor shortage — the system has upwards of 400 unfilled positions — Michigan Medicine has also closed critical care beds in its pediatric hospital to ensure better staffing in its emergency and intensive care units.
Miller also said the capacity issues are also reducing the number of monoclonal antibody therapy treatments it can administer to COVID-positive patients. The antibody therapy is shown to reduce hospitalizations of at-risk patients with comorbitidies by as much as 70 percent.
"The overwhelming majority (of COVID-19 inpatients) are not vaccinated," Miller said. "Our teams are tired, if not exhausted. We need your help."
Miller said the vaccinated patients in the hospital suffer from other severe conditions that put them at risk and are older, where many of the unvaccinated patients are younger and were in good health before infection.
Of the nine COVID patients on ventilators in the system as of Dec. 5, all were unvaccinated, causing critical care staff to suffer from "compassion fatigue," said Nancy Miller, chief nurse executive at the health system.
Breakthrough cases continue to rise throughout the state, accounting for 29 percent of cases in the state since November. But breakthrough infections, those that occur in the vaccinated population, account for fewer than a quarter of all deaths in the past 30 days.
Between April 4 and Oct. 2, the unvaccinated had a 5.8 times greater chance of contracting COVID-19 than the vaccinated, according to state data. That multiplier jumps in the death rate. The unvaccinated were 14 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than the vaccinated.
Michigan Medicine, however, is facing its own vaccine problem as the system was forced to suspend a vaccine mandate for 9,571 union employees after a federal judge temporarily suspended the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' vaccine mandate set to go into effect on Jan. 4.
The union, which covers the majority of Michigan Medicine's nursing staff, entered into a bargaining agreement last year that prevented them from abiding by a mandate from the health system. Michigan Medicine installed its own vaccine mandate ahead of the federal government's. Its mandate went into effect last month.
Roughly 92 percent of its nonunion employees are vaccinated as of Wednesday, with approximately another 4.4 percent, or 1,037 employees, receiving medical or religious exemptions from having to receive the dose. Approximately 3.6 percent, or 848 employees, were not compliant with the mandate and have either been terminated or suspended.
The nurses not covered by the company vaccine mandate are not required to report their vaccine status to the health system, but more than 83 percent have reported they are indeed vaccinated, said Laraine Washer, the medical director for infection control.
This story first appeared in our sister publication, Crain's Detroit Business.