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Another consideration for mandating vaccines

If you need another reason for mandating vaccines, consider this. According to data compiled by the State of Michigan, Region 2S – which includes Washtenaw County – is currently at 84% occupancy for the area’s ICU beds. This is slightly higher than the 81% statewide average as of Friday, September 10.

As of Friday, Michigan Medicine reported that it had 49 COVID-19 patients in its facility, 11 of whom were in an ICU. Michigan Medicine reported that it was at 92% occupancy overall. St. Joseph Mercy Hospital reported that it was treating 32 COVID-19 patients, 8 of whom were in an ICU. St. Joe’s is currently at 99% occupancy. Chelsea has 2 COVID patients, one of whom is in the ICU, and they’re at 93% census.

While I was in college, I worked in the Admissions Office at University Hospital. At the time, the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the administration of Medicare and Medicaid, had recently changed the reimbursement rates for hospital care. As a result, UM operated at “high census” as a matter of policy. That meant on a “good” night, every available bed was full.

I have seen hospitals operate at 100% capacity day after day after day. It was not good. It was a nightmare. The situation was incredibly tense, and it led (I believe) to another nightmare – a nursing strike. Fortunately, we did not have the added complexities of dealing with a pandemic while we were flooded with patients and had no nurses.

Mandating vaccines can reduce high census at area hospitals

The problems associated with high census aren’t limited to not having anywhere to put incoming patients – because the people still come, even when you don’t have anywhere to put them. The helicopters still land when you don’t have any ICU beds. Parents still bring their children to the hospital when there’s no nursing staff to care for them. Car accidents still happen. Women still go into labor. Ambulance crews want nothing more than to drop a patient off and move on. But when the ER is full, the ambulance crews wait outside until the ER staff can take their patients. The crews can’t leave. When ambulances are stuck at the hospital, it compromises the rest of the county.

Elective surgeries get canceled. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that an “elective” surgery is some cosmetic procedure. Most of these surgeries are very necessary; it’s just that the patient is not in a life-or-death state. Yet.

High census often means that the hospital does not have enough blood on hand to address emergencies. It makes housekeeping and laundry services very difficult. Having too many patients complicates patient food service. It can compromise certain supplies. Patients can wait for rooms for hours in hallways, emergency rooms, recovery rooms, sleep labs, cath labs, clinics and any other place that can conceivably hold patients. Patients who get admitted overnight but don’t have a room due to high census are literally waiting for someone to die so they can get a bed.

But worse than all of this, high census runs the staff ragged. People get angry. Patients and their families get angry. Staff members get angry. Nurses and doctors get angry. Full hospitals are desperate and angry places.

Mandating vaccines can prevent capacity problems for hospitals

Most people don’t know this, but hospital morgues are small. Very small. They’re designed to hold two or three bodies until the funeral home staff arrives. High census means that more people die in the hospital. And the morgue is quickly overwhelmed because, like the rest of the hospital, there’s nowhere to put anybody. How many bodies will end up in the hospital morgue because public officials were anxious about mandating vaccines for a deadly disease that is now mostly preventable?

People don’t think about hospitals unless they’re in one. And they expect the hospital to be ready and waiting when they arrive. But our hospitals are painfully close to being full right now. St. Joe’s was at 99% on Friday.

These are among the very best reasons for mandating vaccines right now. Our hospital system is too small, and it is being overrun by COVID-19 cases – on top of everything else hospitals take care of. Every single public institution has an ironclad responsibility to maintain public health. The very best way to do that right now is by mandating vaccines in addition to masks for every employee, vendor and student on campus. Mandating vaccines is not about personal freedom. It is about public safety and part of public safety is making sure the hospital system doesn’t collapse.

Photo Credit: Bill VanderMolen , via Flickr