Muskegon residents struggle to access quality health care amid shortage of workers

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Mercy Health Hospital in Muskegon, now being renamed under the Trinity Health brand, is experiencing short-staffing issues which have resulted in three residents who had waited over seven hours in the emergency room. Some residents believe Musekgon requires another hospital to meet the community’s healthcare needs. 

“We were told that we could expect at least a five to six hour wait time,” said Renae Nuell, a Muskegon resident. “There were patients that were sleeping on the floor because I’m sure they were waiting so long.”

 Nuell went to Mercy Health’s ER on July 19 at 10 p.m. and did not get past the waiting room until over seven hours later, she said. Nuell said the experience was far worse than any other hospital visit she has ever made. 

“There were some really sick people in there that were just throwing up, like they had buckets and they were just throwing up in the buckets, like right in the waiting room,” Nuell said. “There was an officer that came in with a gentleman that was like tweaking out and he was in the waiting room with everybody and he was shackled and handcuffed.” 

The worst story Nuell recalled from the night included an elderly lady in a wheelchair who was visibly unwell. After the receptionist brushed off those who expressed their concerns about the women, Nuell said she fell and hit her head on the floor and began to seize.

“I mean you could hear it, it sounded like a rock hitting something and then she started seizing and the workers finally came up and they’re just kind of just standing around staring at her,” said Nuell. “They never said anything. They just wrapped her up in a blanket and hauled her out of the room.”

Muskegon resident Jennie Griswold recently had to wait over eight hours for her father, who could barely walk, to be seen and said she now chooses to go to hospitals further away. 

Griswold said she went to get her father a wheelchair and then to move her car, but when she walked back to the entrance, they would not let her enter because the hospital was at capacity. 

“I could see my dad and he was trying to get out of there and I said ‘he’s trying to get up, this man can barely walk,’” said Griswold. “They told me to go ahead and get him situated and then just come back out. I went in there, got him situated, and I never came back out.”

Griswold said she could not morally leave him by himself and it was only one of many bad experiences at Mercy Hospital. 

Muskegon resident Emily Ratledge said she was able to access care for her son, whom she was fostering at the time, but the care given was not what she had expected from Trinity Health. Ratledge had taken her son to Mercy Hospital because his behavior was abnormal. 

“He ended up being stuck on a psych hold for three days and then they [Mercy Hospital employees] said they couldn’t find anything,” said Ratledge. “They didn’t do any med changes and they pretty much just said ‘well he was good here, so take him home.’” 

Ratledge said she gave the workers instructions not to give him any sugar or red dye 40 because it increases his behavior and aggravation, but she said the workers gave it to him anyways. Ratledge said she believes they did not have the resources or training to help her son because she has taken him elsewhere and has received better care for him. 

“They need more in-depth psych training,” said Ratledge. “They are just pushing them in and out of the door.” 

While Muskegon resident’s have been signing a petition, anonymously posted to the Facebook page, “Muskegon Informed,” for another hospital to meet the needs of the community, Diane Benson, the manager of internal communications, media/PR for the Trinity Health West Michigan Hospitals, believes the issue is most attributed to short staffing and a high volume of patients seeking care that they had pushed aside during the pandemic.

Benson said Trinity Health is trying to fix their short staffing issues as soon as possible but there is a shortage of healthcare and clinical staff around the country at this time. Benson declined to comment further. 

Long wait times are not the only thing affecting care in Muskegon as residents who are uninsured or on Medicare/Medicaid are lacking options. 

Sam Watson, the senior vice president field engagement with the Michigan Health and Hospital Association, said a program called “Healthy Michigan” has expanded Medicaid coverage, which allows residents to see a primary physician. 

“Sometimes it does happen where people will seek care in the emergency department rather than going to a primary care because they don’t have a primary care physician,” said Watson. “There are still those individuals who may not have been able to get into the system or may not have the resources.” 

Muskegon’s ratio of primary care physicians to patients has peaked at one physician to 1,702 patients in 2022, while most neighboring communities are showing a decreasing ratio or very little change, according to County Health Rankings & Roadmaps

The National Library of Medicine,, looked at the average number of patients a physician should be seeing each year to provide reasonable preventative, chronic and acute care. 

“One physician could reasonably care for a panel of 983 patients under a non delegated primary care model,” said the National Library of Medicine. 

With the “most ambitious” amount of work delegated to non-physician team members, physicians could reasonably care for 1,947 patients per year, according to the National Library of Medicine, with other models estimating panel sizes of 1,523 patients and 1,387 patients. Muskegon’s ratio of patients to physicians is at the higher end of these figures. 

“We’re all doing everything we can to encourage people, early in their education, you know, even at the middle school level, to think about the pathway to healthcare,” said Watson.  

Angela Lafever, an insurance agent in Muskegon, said she pulled an all-nighter in the ER at Mercy waiting for a bed in the intensive care unit to open up. 

“I was passing out and I was very confused so I went into the ER,” said Lafever. “I got to the ER, I wanna say at about 3 p.m. and I didn’t make it into a room in the ICU until about 9 a.m. the next morning.”  

Lafever said her stay in the ICU was great but the wait for a room was ridiculous. Along with other Muskegon residents she said she is considering driving further for care the next time she needs to be seen. 

As the country struggles with a shortage in healthcare workers, a shortage of 8,500 nurses according to the MHA, and Trinity Health tries to fix their short staffing issue, the petition for another hospital to be built in Muskegon has reached over 1,000 signatures.

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