By Jon King /


While COVID continues to surge across Michigan, the strain being placed on the front-line medical staff is has reached a breaking point for many.

On Monday, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reported a new record for adults hospitalized with confirmed cases of the virus. The tally of 4,356 represents a 4% increase from a week ago and has been on the rise since July. There are also 40 children hospitalized with COVID statewide.

At St. Joseph Mercy Livingston Hospital, they have been dealing with full 100% occupancy of their 42 beds for several weeks, with the vast majority of those patients infected with COVID-19, and most of them are unvaccinated. Because there is no readily available bed space, the normal functions of the hospital have all been affected, as have the doctors and nurses working there.

Laurie Cortez is a Surgical Pre-Op/Recovery Charge Nurse who says the scheduling strain has resulted in four of their 22 recovery nurses either retiring or transferring to units with more predictable shifts. The combination of a staff stretched thin and a full hospital means they often have nowhere to assign patients who are required to stay overnight.

When that happens they have to either cancel or reschedule their non-emergency surgeries, transfer them to their sister facilities in the St. Joseph Mercy Health System, or in some extreme cases, keep some of their patients in the Recovery Room overnight. Because they don’t have a midnight staff, that then means they either need to bring in on-call nurses or rely on regular staff members’ willingness to work longer shifts, which she says is taking its toll.

“We’re tired," she said. "Yeah, we’re tired…We do it for our patients, we do it for each other, but we’re tired. It definitely affects our whole work/life balance and we’re just tired.”

That sentiment was echoed by Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin, who took a tour of the hospital on Monday and afterward said it reminded her of the fatigue she saw while serving with the CIA in Iraq. “Many of our hospitals are hitting a breaking point," said the 8th District Democrat. "I think St. Joe’s has been doing an incredible job trying to keep their head above water, but these doctors and nurses haven’t had a day off in months. They haven’t seen their kids and I just don’t think that’s getting through what it’s like. It’s like a combat zone inside the hospital. It reminds me of time in a combat zone."

Slotkin says she wanted to see first-hand what the staff is going through, but also to "advocate with the community for vaccinations, for doing your part so you don’t end up in the ICU so that your hospital that you care about can be used for other things like kidney stones and heart surgeries. All these things are being canceled now because they’re oversubscribed." Slotkin also said the visit was to "advocate that we get federal dollars unstuck from the Michigan Legislature. Federal dollars we approved last March that could be going to our hospitals, who are just really, really strapped right now.”

Meanwhile, for Cortez and her colleagues, making all of this even worse is that while they were hailed as heroes at the beginning of the pandemic, they now often have to deal with patients who vent their frustrations and anger out on them. “Sometimes when you call them to say ‘I’m sorry, we’re going to have to reschedule your surgery’ they are angry," she said. "They don’t think COVID is real.”

When asked how that makes her feel considering the impact the pandemic has had on her family’s life, she said “I don’t think I’m going to change their mind, so I just have to reiterate that we’re doing what’s best for all of our patients and for our staff to reschedule them when they have tested positive…It definitely is frustrating.”