Henry Ford Health System reported Friday that 576 of its roughly 33,000 employees are out of work because they either have coronavirus or were in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 and are in quarantine — a rise of 200 workers in a week.
“We are very concerned with the staffing shortage,” said Dr. Adnan Munkarah, executive vice president and chief clinical officer at Henry Ford Health System.
It comes as hospitalizations from COVID-19 are pushing capacity at many hospitals statewide. Although case rates appear to be leveling off overall in Michigan — averaging 6,727 new daily cases over the last seven days — 81% of intensive care unit hospital beds are full, said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and deputy director of the state health department.
Six hospitals — Ascension St. Joseph Hospital in Tawas City, Ascension Standish Hospital, Lakeland Medical Center in St. Joseph, McLaren Bay Special Care in Bay City, McLaren Port Huron Hospital and St. Mary Mercy Hospital in Livonia — are at 100% capacity, according to state data.
At Henry Ford, two of its six hospitals, Macomb and West Bloomfield, are more than 90% full, state data show. Munkarah said the Detroit-based health system is “reaching our capacity.”
“What I mean by that is that on a regular basis, our hospital leaders, our chief medical officers are connecting across our hospitals to see how we can flex our capacity,” he said.
“If we are short on beds at Henry Ford Macomb Hospital, our leaders are contacting our facilities in Detroit, in West Bloomfield or Wyandotte to accommodate patients. And we’ve had transfers in some of these cases.”
Statewide, of the 24,000 available adult hospital beds, about 17,000 are full — roughly 71% overall. But some hospitals are more taxed than others.
Seventeen hospitals are reporting they are at 90% capacity or higher. They include:
- Ascension’s Genesys and Macomb-Oakland hospitals in Grand Blanc and Madison Heights
- Beaumont Hospital in Wayne
- Bronson’s hospitals in Battle Creek and Kalamazoo
- Detroit Receiving Hospital
- Covenant Healthcare in Saginaw
- Harper University/Hutzel Women’s hospitals in Detroit
- Henry Ford’s Macomb and West Bloomfield hospitals
- McLaren’s hospitals in Mount Clemens, Flint and Lansing
- Sparrow Hospital in Lansing
- St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor
- Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit
- Spectrum Health Pennock
“We are constantly looking at our procedures, our scheduled admissions versus emergency admissions and see whether these can be either postponed for a few days or managed in another one of our hospitals,” Munkarah said.
Adding more hospital beds, however, requires more staff, and “the problem that we are facing is a nursing shortage as well as other therapist shortages and this is across the state and across institutions.
“This has been a continuing challenge and this is why our plea to the community (is) that we need to protect our health care workers” by wearing masks, social distancing, practicing hand hygiene and avoiding large gatherings, including at Christmas.
This week, 136 employees tested positive for the virus throughout the Henry Ford Health System, compared with 158 in the previous week, Munkarah said.
While that number is declining, with rates of community spread of the virus so high, employees are at higher risk of contracting it in their daily lives, too, he said.
“Our people are out (of work and in quarantine) — the majority of them — because of community exposure. And until we control the disease in the community, we are going to continue to face this challenge,” Munkarah said.
The health system is launching its Tough Love Campaign Saturday with ads on TV and on social media, in print and on radio to encourage people to follow the public health guidelines to slow the spread of the disease.
“It’s tough as nails to keep at it … months after we thought this thing would be behind us,” to cancel holiday plans or to show your family and friends how much you love them by NOT seeing them, said Heather Geisler, Henry Ford’s senior vice president and chief marketing, communications and experience officer, in a statement.
“It’s one thing to talk about infection and death rates, and repeating that people should wear masks, keep washing their hands and continue social distancing. It’s quite another to demonstrate in the starkest terms how we have endured and overcome past challenges as a community, and how we can be tough enough to get to the other side of this one. These individual acts of resolve will make all the difference.”
The health system plans to distribute 260,000 of free masks as part of the campaign, Munkarah said, and is preparing to begin administering COVID-19 vaccines to its health care workers as soon as they are approved for distribution.
“We anticipate that over a matter of weeks or a couple of months, we’ll be able to get to the majority of the … health care workforce that is here in Michigan, as well as around the nation” vaccinated, Munkarah said.
But knowing that supplies of any COVID-19 vaccine will be extremely limited at first, Munkarah says Henry Ford will move its highest-risk workers to the front of the line for immunizations — those with contact with patients on acute care units, intensive care units and in emergency departments.
However, he said, “as a health care system, our decision at the present time is that we are not proceeding with any mandating of vaccines. We are going to educate and advocate and work with people going forward.”
For employees who have tested positive for coronavirus and are known to have had an infection, Munkarah said there’s no need to jump to the front of the vaccination line.
He said agreements with government agencies and CVS and Walgreens will ensure residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities also will get COVID-19 vaccines quickly.
But even with the coming rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, Munkarah says about 70% of the population will need to be vaccinated to reach anything close to herd immunity. Until then, he says, the community still needs to wear masks, practice social distancing and avoid large gatherings.
“We are concerned that if we do not get enough people vaccinated, we will not get to stop this virus from continuing to cause significant damage to our communities, both health care damage and damage beyond that — the psychological damage as well as economic damage.”
Contact Kristen Shamus: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @kristenshamus.