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More hospitals nearing capacity as "surge"starts hitting Metro Detroit

Olga Kononenko for Unsplash.com

First it was Beaumont Health on Tuesday, announcing that with nearly 450 confirmed COVID-19 cases and another 185 awaiting testing results, its 8 hospitals are “facing limitations and nearing capacity with our staffing, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and mechanical ventilators...” 

Then on Wednesday, Henry Ford Health System said its hospitals in Detroit and West Bloomfield were “quite full,” with just over 400 confirmed or suspected coronavirus patients hospitalized across the system.


“We feel like we're on the front end of the surge,” says Dr. Betty Chu, Henry Ford’s associate chief clinical officer and chief quality officer. “But we're anticipating a significant increase in volume in the coming weeks...We feel like we’re on the rapid acceleration of a growth curve.” 

It’s impossible to say how big, exactly, that surge will be. 

“What makes it hard for us to give you an exact number, is because of the lack of testing in the population,” Chu says. “It's hard for us to anticipate, if we don't know what the general prevalence of the disease is in a population, how many of those patients are going to get sick. So as you know, there's a percentage of patients with COVID who won't get sick, and there's a percentage that will get very sick. And if we could know what the prevalence of COVID is in the population, then it would be much easier to forecast our surge.”

Some patients are being transferred to campuses (like one in Jackson) where there’s more space.

“Our plan is to use all the capacity in our existing facilities first,” says Bob Riney, Henry Ford Health System’s chief operating officer. “And then, what we would hit - where we no longer had the ability to safely take care of patients - is those facilities would go to all of the additional capacity expansion [plans already being put into place, like converting surgical rooms into COVID units and doubling the bed counts in some ICUs.]” 


After that, however, they would “certainly look to other health systems” if they had the capacity to take patients, Riney says. But moving critically ill patients is an “option of last resort.” 

So, much like officials in Oakland County, Riney says they’re looking for outside options. 

“We have been in contact with...universities who have begun to initiate their own plans as to how they could support additional capacity if needed,” he says. “We are also in discussions with a fair number of hotels, or universities that have dormitory space, so that if the surge really reached extremely high levels and staff were not able to go home in between shifts, that they could have a place close by to stay. So both of those actions are happening all throughout the region.”

Editor's note: Henry Ford Health System is one of Michigan Radio's corporate sponsors.
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Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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