Omicron hits an already depleted staff at Spectrum hospitals

Nearly 1,000 workers have tested positive for COVID

Spectrum Health hospitals, including Reed City, have been struggling with an increase of patients, both with and without COVID-19, for months.

Spectrum Health hospitals, including Reed City, have been struggling with an increase of patients, both with and without COVID-19, for months.

Photo courtesy of Spectrum Health

REED CITY — The latest variant of COVID-19 is doing more than increasing the number of patients in local hospitals. It’s also decreasing the number of health care workers available to care for those patients.

“(We’ve) received a record number of team members that have tested positive for COVID-19, during this time, we've already had staffing challenges,” Dr. Darryl Elmouchi, president of Spectrum Health West Michigan, said in a recent video update. “Across all of our Spectrum hospitals, we've had nearly 1,000 team members test positive. That's a lot of people.

“Thankfully, because we have so many that are vaccinated, we've seen very few significant illnesses; and thankfully, no one over the last week has been hospitalized amongst our team and we know that everyone is recovering,” he continued. “But when you have that many people out sick at one time when you're already short-staffed, when you have so many patients in our hospitals or clinics, it's rough.”

Spectrum Health has 14 hospitals, including locations in Reed City and Big Rapids.

“The omicron variant is highly contagious, and we are monitoring the number of team members who are out daily,” said Andrea Leslie, president of Spectrum Health Reed City, Big Rapids, United and Kelsey hospitals. “Team members can return to work now after five days if they have no fever and symptoms are improving, per the CDC guidelines, which has helped tremendously with our ability to staff.”

On Jan. 5, 209 of Spectrum Health’s employees tested positive the previous day, according to Spectrum Health’s COVID-19 Dashboard. On Jan. 6, another 197 tested positive. By Monday, Jan. 10, 323 employees had been added for a cumulative total of 7,983.

Infections may not be due to patient interactions, however.

“Just like other variants, most of the infected team members are getting the illness in the community and not in the workplace,” Leslie said.

Hospitals have been struggling with an increase of patients, both with and without COVID-19, for months.

“We're now well beyond anything we've seen before here in West Michigan with the number of hospitalized patients,” Elmouchi said Dec. 3 during a news conference with the presidents of Mercy Health Saint Mary’s and University of Michigan Health-West.

“This is absolutely a time of reckoning for healthcare, especially on the hospital side,” said Dr. Peter Hahn, of UM Health West. “This prolonged delta surge combined with staffing shortages, exhaustion, it's a very difficult time.”

Now, the omicron variant has taken ahold.

As of Monday, Jan. 10, Spectrum Health had 379 patients with COVID-19 across its 14 hospitals, including 101 adults and six minors in intensive care units.

“How do we mitigate this? This is going to be the challenge for everyone across the country,” Elmouchi said. “We're working very hard to move people around … a lot of volunteers within our system helping us fill shifts, but the next few weeks are going to be really challenging.”


The omicron variant has been a concern since Thanksgiving for its high number of mutations and increased level of transmission.

“Our lab positivity is astronomically high, far higher than anything we have ever seen,” Elmouchi said. “We have a rolling average seven-day positivity of around 35%, and we have multiple days where we've seen up to 1,000 positive tests in a single day. We had never seen this before in the last 22 plus months of the pandemic.”

The increase in COVID-19 patients, on top of the typical number of patients, has created bottlenecks in emergency departments, increasing wait times as well as tempers.

“We have seen a definite increase in violence in both Big Rapids and Reed City hospitals, both verbal abuse and physical altercations,” Leslie said. “It’s very troubling, and we have zero tolerance for this type of behavior.

“We have implemented several things to work to keep our team members safe, like hiring security to staff our facilities 24/7, providing specialized de-escalation training, and creating warning systems in our electronic medical record for individuals who have exhibited violent behavior in the past.”