Parents Urged to Take Preventive Measures As Pediatric Beds Fill Up

As Respiratory Viruses Circulate, Michigan Hospitals Urge Vigilance, Prevention

Michigan children’s hospitals and pediatric healthcare leaders are raising awareness about a pediatric hospital bed shortage and urging the public to help prevent respiratory illnesses, which are rapidly spreading in the form of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and influenza.

Michigan pediatric intensive care unit hospital beds are currently 89% occupied, according to data from the Michigan Health & Hospital Association (MHA) and Michigan Department of Health & Human Services (MDHHS). Hospitals are also reporting large surges in young patients visiting emergency departments, for both emergent and non-emergent care. Hospitals are urging those with mild cold-like symptoms to stay at home. If symptoms worsen, an urgent care or primary care physician’s office would be the most appropriate setting to seek care, while emergency department visits should be reserved for those with moderate to severe symptoms including shortness of breath. Wait times and patient volumes in emergency rooms are increasing, and emergency department capacity in some areas is being depleted by visits for non-emergency medical conditions. Pervasive hospital staff shortages further complicate surges in hospital visits.

These pediatric bed shortages are impacting care statewide, making transfers of the sickest young patients to higher acuity care settings difficult.

“Hospitals are here for Michiganders, particularly in emergencies,” said Gary Roth, DO, chief medical officer, MHA. “But our capacity to provide pediatric hospital care is extremely strained. Right now, the staffing challenges we have been sounding the alarms about all year combined with rapid spread of respiratory illnesses are impacting our hospitals’ ability to care for our sickest children in a timely manner.”

The MHA and the MDHHS are monitoring the pediatric bed capacity among Michigan hospitals. Nationally, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data shows that 76% of pediatric beds across the country are full, with anecdotal reports largely pinning the shortage on widespread RSV infections.

“Many of us in the pediatric medical community across Michigan are working to care for the surge of children battling RSV,” Matthew Denenberg, MD, chief of pediatrics, Corewell Health East, the new name for Beaumont Health, and chair of the MHA’s Council on Children’s Health. “Our teams are here to help when the illness becomes severe. Parents and guardians can also help stop the spread of illness in our communities by getting children vaccinated against both flu and COVID-19. We all need to work together to keep our children safe.”

“In recent weeks we have seen a significant surge in cases of RSV which is most greatly impacting our infants and young children,” said Rudolph Valentini, MD, chief medical officer, Children’s Hospital of Michigan. “Since Oct. 1, more than 450 patients have tested positive for RSV at our hospital. This is putting a strain on our hospital’s emergency department and inpatient bed capacity; further, this could intensify if influenza cases begin to rise in the near future. It is also important to note that RSV and its associated bronchiolitis cause symptomatic disease in 20% of infants and children less than one year of age. Although RSV may only cause a mild cold in older children and adults, it is important for parents to keep their infants and young children away from others who are ill, because RSV causes inflammation to the smallest airways making infants especially vulnerable sometimes resulting in hospitalization or ICU care. Other patients who need to avoid RSV are children with a history of prematurity, chronic lung disease, congenital heart disease, immunodeficiency or solid organ transplant.”

“As we see this concerning trend in high volumes of pediatric emergent care and hospitalizations, we need to all work together to protect our children and conserve resources.  Pediatric beds are a shared resource across the state,” stated Christine Nefcy, MD, chief medical officer, Munson Healthcare. “Many smaller community or rural hospitals in Michigan have minimal pediatric bed capacity and rely on other facilities for higher level or specialty care for these patients. At this time of year, we naturally want to gather more often with family and friends; so as you make plans, we urge parents to follow these guidelines to ensure we manage this surge using all the tools at hand.”

“We are urging Michiganders to have a plan for their families this respiratory season to help prevent hospital overcrowding and prevent outbreaks of respiratory illnesses using the tools available,” said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, the state’s chief medical executive. “This includes getting available vaccines, staying home if unwell, having a supply of masks at home, covering coughs, washing your hands often and finding out if you are eligible for treatment options if you do become unwell.”

The MHA and its pediatric clinical leaders and partners offer the following tips for the public:

  • DON’T: Seek hospital emergency care for non-emergency medical conditions, such as mild symptoms and routine testing.
  • DO: Seek hospital emergency care if symptoms are worrisome and emergency care is needed. Emergency medical conditions can include difficulty breathing, dehydration and worsening symptoms.
  • DO: Immediately get vaccinated against respiratory illnesses. Visit www.vaccines.gov to search for vaccine availability or call your provider or the local health department.
  • DO: Be patient if seeking care through a hospital emergency department. Consider that wait times may be elevated as respiratory illnesses reach seasonal peak levels.
  • DO: Consider having your children wear a mask in public places including school when you know local case rates of respiratory illnesses are high.
  • DO: Practice frequent and proper hand washing and stay home if you’re not feeling well.

Additional information: 

Influenza is a viral respiratory illness with symptoms that include fever, cough, stuffy or runny nose, sore throat, headache, chills and fatigue. A flu test is not always needed to diagnose the flu, however in some cases it may be recommended by a healthcare provider. People at risk of complications should consult their healthcare provider.

RSV infection is a viral respiratory illness that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. Most people recover in a week or two, but RSV can be serious, especially for infants and older adults. Symptoms include runny nose, decreased appetite, coughing, sneezing, fever and wheezing.

Reporters may contact the following representatives from the Pediatric Leadership Collaborative to schedule interviews:

Natasha Bagdasarian, MD, MPH, FIDSA, Chief Medical Executive, State of Michigan
Media Contact: Lynn Sutfin, SutfinL1@michigan.gov

Francis Darr, MD, Pediatrician, UP Health System – Marquette
Media Contact: Janell Larson, Janell.Larson@mghs.org

Marcus DeGraw, MD, Chairman, Department of Pediatrics, Ascension St. John Hospital St. John Children’s Center
Media Contact: Airielle Taylor, airielle.taylor@ascension.org

Matthew Denenberg, MD, Chief of Pediatrics, Corewell Health East
Media Contact: Mark Geary, mark.geary@beaumont.org

Michael Fiore, MD, Medical Director, Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, Covenant Healthcare
Media Contact: Kristin Knoll, kknoll@chs-mi.com

Steven Martin, MD, E.W. Sparrow Hospital, Interim Chief Medical Officer & Co-Director of University of Michigan Health at Sparrow Children’s Center, Sparrow Health System
Media Contact: John Foren, John.Foren@Sparrow.org

Kimberly Monroe, MD, MS, Interim Chief Clinical Officer, C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital & Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital
Media Contact: Beata Mostafavi, bmostafa@med.umich.edu

Christine Nefcy, MD, Chief Medical Officer, Munson Healthcare
Jacques Burgess, MD, MPH, System Pediatric Medical Director, Munson Healthcare
Media Contact: Dale Killingbeck, dkillingbeck@mhc.net

Brian M Nolan, MD, Hurley Children’s Hospital
Media Contact: Peggy Agar, pagar1@hurleymc.com

Dominic Sanfilippo, MD, Associate Department Chief / Pediatrician-in-Chief, Corewell Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital
Media Contact: Andrea Finnigan, Andrea.Finnigan@spectrumhealth.org

Uzma Shah MD, FAAP, FAASLD, Chair, Department of Pediatrics, Henry Ford Health
Media Contact: Dana Jay, djay2@hfhs.org

Gregory Tiongson, MD, Medical Director, Bronson Children’s Hospital
Media Contact: Erin Smith, smither@bronsonhg.org

Rudolph Valentini, MD, Chief Medical Officer, Children’s Hospital of Michigan
Media Contact: Brian Taylor, BTaylor8@dmc.org

Hospital Executives Recognized for Outstanding Leadership

The MHA announced the winners of its 2022 Healthcare Leadership Award June 30 during its Annual Membership Meeting. Each year, the MHA recognizes outstanding individuals who have provided exceptional leadership to healthcare organizations and to the health and well-being of the community. The 2022 recipients are Charles “Chuck” Nelson, chief operations officer, Marshfield Michigan, and chief administrative officer, Marshfield Medical Center – Dickinson, Iron Mountain; and Edwin A. Ness, president and CEO, Munson Healthcare, Traverse City. The MHA will donate $1,000 on behalf of each award winner to the charity of their choice. These funds were provided to the MHA by the family of former MHA President H. Allen Barth.

Charles “Chuck” Nelson, chief administrative officer, Marshfield Medical Center – Dickinson, Iron Mountain.

When Nelson became CEO of the former Dickinson County Healthcare System in October 2019, the organization was near bankruptcy. He focused on helping staff and the community envision the system as a significant player in the future of Dickinson County and turning the financially challenged organization around.

Over the next 30 months, Nelson significantly improved income and balance sheet performance and implemented operational improvements, leading to approval of a $17 million loan through the USDA rural development program — assistance that had previously been denied. The funding was used to upgrade technology and hire 16 new physicians.

Nelson led through the pandemic by coordinating contingency plans, securing vaccines, improving access to testing, strengthening telehealth services and expanding inpatient capacity. He shares with other organizations the lessons learned through a malware attack that took the health system offline for nearly six weeks, helping them better manage cyber risk. A project focused on improving patient and employee engagement led to an improved rating from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Nelson also led through the system’s affiliation with Marshfield Clinic Health System to improve access and increase healthcare innovation for area residents.

Nelson has asked that the $1,000 monetary portion of the award go to Little Brothers, Friends of the Elderly in Hancock, MI.

Edwin A. Ness, president and CEO, Munson Healthcare.
Edwin A. Ness, president and CEO, Munson Healthcare.

Ness took the reins at Munson Healthcare in 2010 and led the effort to integrate nine community hospitals in the northwest lower peninsula, then worked to streamline the organization’s decision-making process. He and board leadership generated a new governance structure, achieving the benefits of a single board while maintaining the voice of each local community. His leadership in developing collaborative partnerships with other healthcare systems and the integration of multiple specialty services in Traverse City provided both quality local care and regional access to sophisticated diagnostic and therapeutic capabilities. During the pandemic, Ness led efforts to coordinate response plans with local health departments and others, ensuring broad access to vaccinations.

Ness is a servant leader who focuses on community needs and supporting and building his team, and his integrity and values emerge through all his interactions. He leads change by including those impacted by potential actions, and he fosters strong engagement of board members.

Ness’ leadership skills have benefited the boards many organizations. He served 12 years on the MHA board and was board chair in the 2020-2021 program year as hospitals faced the challenges of the pandemic.

At Ness’ request, the $1,000 monetary portion of the award will go to the Chill Out for Winter Safety program, which teaches children to be smart and safe while having fun.

The MHA congratulates the winners of the 2022 MHA Healthcare Leadership Award.

Hospital Testimony Supports Community College BSN Degrees

Ed Ness, president and CEO of Munson Healthcare

The Michigan Legislature held several hearings on legislation supported by the MHA during the week of Nov. 29. In the House Education Committee, initial testimony was taken on a bill to allow community colleges to offer 4-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degrees. The Senate Health Policy and Human Services Committee reported to the Senate floor legislation to make changes to pharmacy wholesale distributors, and the House Health Policy Committee reported a pair of bills that would allow Michigan to join the Psychology Interjurisdictional Compact (PSYPACT).

The first hearings were held Nov. 30 on House Bills (HBs) 5556 and 5557, which would allow community colleges to offer 4-year BSN degrees. Introduced by Reps. John Roth (R-Traverse City) and John Damoose (R-Harbor Springs), the bills would increase access to high-quality nurses in some areas served by Michigan’s small and rural hospitals where a four-year school does not currently exist. Ed Ness, president and CEO of Munson Healthcare, testified in support of the bills alongside Gabe Schneider, Munson’s director of government relations.

Ness told the committee, “Now more than ever is the time to support our front-line workers and all those in the healthcare industry as we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.” The MHA also provided written testimony in support of HBs 5556 and 5557 and will continue to keep members apprised of any action.

Members of the Senate Health Policy and Human Services Committee reported the pharmacy wholesale distributors bill to the House floor. HB 5072 was introduced by Rep. Ryan Berman (R-Commerce Township) and is a state-level effort to exempt hospitals and other healthcare entities that are under common control from a medication distribution threshold that currently requires registration as wholesalers. The MHA supports the bill, as it would remove the requirement for additional paperwork for hospital pharmacies.

The House Health Policy Committee reported to the House floor two bills to allow Michigan to join PSYPACT. This compact is a legal agreement among states that creates an expedited pathway to licensure for psychologists who wish to practice telepsychiatry across state lines. HBs 5488 and 5489 were introduced by Reps. Bronna Kahle (R-Adrian) and Felicia Brabec (D-Pittsfield Township), respectively, and are supported by the MHA.

Members with questions on state legislation may contact Adam Carlson at the MHA.