By Jon King /


As a fourth COVID surge continues to wreak turmoil on hospitals across the state, St. Joseph Mercy Livingston Hospital in Howell finds itself similarly under duress from what has been described as an “unrelenting volume of COVID-19 patients with advanced illness.”

WHMI was given special access to the hospital, its Emergency Department (ED) and Intensive Care Unit (ICU) last Thursday to witness up close the effect that the wave of COVID patients is having. The hospital is at 100% bed occupancy, which means that all 42 of its available beds are occupied, with 32 of those beds being used by patients with COVID-19. In addition, all eight of the ICU pods had COVID patients, none of whom were vaccinated. At least half of them were on ventilators.

Dan is a Charge Nurse in the 19-bed Emergency Department, which was packed with 38 patients, many on gurneys in the hallway. In fact, he said the volume of patients has forced them to repurpose much of their space, pointing to their Senior Emergency Area as an example. "Normally this would be used to treat patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia," he said. "We’ve converted it over into a COVID wing. It accommodates four patients. There’s a nurses station in there and all the beds are occupied right now. We have some patients here in the hallway. The hallways are very tight. You can see over here we’ve got our Trauma Bays, where we have COVID patients in pretty much all of our rooms right now.”

Dan said because they are at double their normal capacity, there is very little space in the Emergency Room left for patients who do not have COVID.

John O’Malley is the President of St. Joseph Mercy Livingston Hospital and says the strain on their system is felt at every level. “They’re dealing with very, very sick patients," said O'Malley. "When you have 42 inpatients here, 32 of which have COVID, those patients are really sick and the majority of those patients are unvaccinated. Those that are vaccinated have severe comorbidities, so they could have COPD, CHF, diabetes, severe obesity and so forth. And I will tell you many of those patients are doing better than the unvaccinated COVID patients that we’re admitting, so I think it tells us that the vaccinations are working.”

That was a point that Dan, the ER Charge Nurse, wanted to reiterate for anyone in the public who doubts the seriousness of this issue.

“COVID numbers are very high," he said. "Get your vaccines. We’re noticing a lot of people that are admitted to the hospital do not have vaccines. Please get your vaccines and be patient with us. We’re doing our best.”

Statewide data back up what Dan is seeing day-to-day. On Friday, 4,360 Michiganders were hospitalized with confirmed cases of the virus, just about double the 2,183 people who were hospitalized with COVID-19 just one month ago.

Dr. Varsha Moudgal is the Associate Chief Medical Officer at St. Joseph Mercy Livingston Hospital. She’s also an infectious diseases specialist and says this surge is the one that has had the most impact on the hospital. “We’ve seen the largest number of patients that we have since the pandemic began with this particular surge," said Dr. Moudgal. "We are seeing large numbers of patients coming in to the Emergency Department that are requiring admission and so we’ve ran continually full with our bed capacity continuing to hold a lot of patients in the ER, so we’re seeing significant inpatient volumes at this time.”

Dr. Moudgal said that there are two factors that make this surge worse than the previous ones. The first is the Delta variant, which is “markedly more transmissible” but also causes greater clinical illness. The second is the number of people who remain unvaccinated. She says when you put those two facts together; the result is the situation they “are up against right now.”


Top - Dr. Vasrha Moudgal looks on as RN Jim Lindlbauer prepares to enter a room with a COVID patient. The yellow door caddies hang outside any room with a COVID patient inside.

Bottom - Dan, a Charge Nurse in the St. Joseph Mercy Livingston Emergency Department.