'We simply just don’t have the people.' Local hospital wait times increase amid staffing shortages

Posted at 11:28 AM, Aug 22, 2022

DETROIT (WXYZ) — This month, a viewer contacted 7 Action News saying she had to wait 12 hours to be admitted to a local hospital.

Unfortunately, she’s not the only person experiencing a long wait.

“I went to the emergency room about 1:30 - 2:00 Tuesday. I sat there, sat there, sat there until 1:00 in the morning on Wednesday,” said Veda Thompkins, Detroit native who experienced long hospital wait times.

We spoke with Veda Thompkins from her bedside at Beaumont Hospital in Farmington Hills.

A breast cancer patient, Thompkins tells 7 Action News she's usually admitted within 30 minutes. But, this week, she sat waiting in the emergency room for 12 hours.

“No, it’s not acceptable. I can understand them having shortages but that’s not acceptable for anybody,” said Thompkins.

Thousands of patients in Michigan, like Veda, have experienced these horrendous wait times.

But, why?

“We simply just don’t have the people. Some people have left the profession. Some people were able to command better salaries elsewhere," said Laura Appel, Executive Vice President of government relations and public policy, Michigan Health & Hospital Association.

“We can see it in the data, when you don’t have enough nurses there are going to be some pitfalls.”

The lack of staffing at hospitals and the surplus of patients due to COVID-19 means there are less beds available.

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“I started asking questions at 4 o’clock. When am I being seen?” Thompkins asked hospital staff during her 12-hour wait at Beaumont Hospital in Farmington Hills.

Beaumont Health released the following statement in regards to the wait times:

"Our emergency centers are open and we are ready to serve our patients. A national health care staffing shortage has resulted in some emergency centers experiencing longer wait times after patients are initially evaluated, plus ER volumes are now at or above pre-pandemic levels."

According to Appel, this August there are 1,700 fewer staffed beds across all Michigan hospitals when compared to October 2020.

“And, that’s where I think the real difference is today, we have a number of people who were essentially getting their inpatient care in the ER because there is no room to move them to the floor,” Appel said.

The Detroit Medical Center used to advertise a 29-minute wait guarantee. We called them and asked what their wait time is today.

It turns out, they’ve received so much backlash for their wait times, they won’t give them out anymore, but they did say there were over 60 patients ahead of us in line.

And, it’s not just hospitals that are short staffed. The shortage is also effecting nursing homes.

Appel said because nursing homes don’t have enough staff, they can’t transfer their older patients to a home, resulting in even less hospital beds being available.

“I can’t get people in because I have a workforce shortage and I can’t get people out because I have a workforce shortage,” said Appel.

To gain and retain hospital workers, the hospital association is working with colleges to help students financially who are going into the field.

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Oakland University recently announced a partnership with Beaumont that will provide more than $20 million in the next five years for aspiring nurses.

In February, the State of Michigan approved $3 million in funding for recruitment and retainment of nurses. This summer the state will also provide funding for sign-on bonuses.

“Small nursing homes offered $10,000 bonus to come work as a certified nursing assistant… we will pay for your training to do that. So far, we’ve gotten two people to say yes. It’s really hard to get people to come and do this work,” Appel said.

Appel says her team knows a change won’t happen overnight, but patients like Veda are the motivation to continue working for more hospital staff.