What Bronson Healthcare officials have feared has become a reality: In-patient beds at Bronson South Haven are now at a premium due to the uptick in COVID-19 cases this fall.

“In recent weeks, Bronson South Haven has experienced the highest number of COVID-19 positive patients than it has at any other time during the pandemic,” reports Dr. Matthew Dommer, chief operating officer and vice president of Bronson South Haven and Bronson LakeView Hospitals. “That, combined with other patients needing emergency care has pushed the hospital to capacity.”

Bronson South Haven has 8 in-patient beds and 14 beds for emergency room use.

“Alterations have been made to all 8 inpatient rooms to be able to accommodate COVID patients,” Dommer said.

Because the in-patient beds are at capacity, the hospital has had to utilize more of its emergency room beds over the past couple of weeks for other medical purposes, however, the emergency department is still handling medical issues that have to be addressed right away.

“The Emergency Department remains open to patients, including those brought by ambulance,” Dommer said. “If a patient in the Emergency Department needs to be admitted, the patient may be held in Emergency until an inpatient bed opens.”

There are cases, however, when patients may have to be transferred to other medical facilities, according to Dommer, due to the limited surgical services offered at Bronson South Haven.

“Regardless of hospital capacity, some conditions require a person be transported directly to or transferred to a tertiary referral hospital, which is a hospital that provides a higher level of specialty care – stroke, heart attack, trauma,” Dommer said. “If a patient at Bronson South Haven needs to be transferred, a tertiary hospital will be sought out that is accepting patient transfers.”

However, with the high level of COVID-19 cases occurring throughout Michigan, as well as many other parts of the United States, finding another hospital in Southwest Michigan that has available beds and staffing isn’t all that easy.

“Currently, most hospitals in our region are also at or near capacity and are unable to accept transfers, so patients may have to be transferred to a tertiary hospital farther away than they would under normal circumstances,” Dommer said.

South Haven Area Emergency Services has already experienced some of the transfer difficulties that can occur in terms of transporting people by ambulance to other medical facilities.

“Hospitals throughout our area are experiencing capacity issues which means ambulatory patients are sometimes being taken to hospitals outside our community,” South Haven Area Emergency Services Director and Fire Chief Brandon Hinz posted on SHAES Facebook page this past weekend. “This has occurred to SHAES four times in recent days, including one transport all the way to a Grand Rapids hospital with a person seriously injured in an accident in Casco Township.”

Both Allegan and Van Buren counties are designated as counties in Michigan with high transmission rates for COVID-19, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

As of Dec. 13th, Van Buren/Cass District Health Department reported a total of 11,201 cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, with 175 deaths. Neighboring Allegan County has recorded 17,332 COVID-19 cases and 214 deaths.

With the spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths this fall, the state health department has issued a face mask public health advisory for people in Michigan. People are urged to especially wear face masks indoors in public spaces.

In the meantime, Bronson health officials are advising people to still utilize Bronson South Haven for medical concerns.

“If people are having a medical emergency, they should call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department,” Dommer said. “If it is determined that a person needs to be admitted, they may remain in the emergency department overnight until an inpatient bed becomes available. Hospitals are asking patients and families to understand they may experience long wait times, as those with the most critical needs must be cared for first. Staff members are exhausted and doing their very best to care for everyone during this crisis.”