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Draft hospital letter leaks, outlining who gets ventilators in a shortage

Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit
Paulette Parker
Michigan Radio


This story was updated March 27 at 9:15 am.

A draft letter outlining which patients would be prioritized if Henry Ford Health System runs out of ventilators or Intensive Care Unit beds, was leaked on social media Thursday night. 


This is a kind of “worst case scenario” letter, a spokesperson said in response, and the kind of planning that’s "standard with most reputable health systems."

And currently, it is only part of Henry Ford's emergency response planning, the spokesperson says; it's not an active policy at this point. Michigan Radio spoke with multiple frontline healthcare providers at Henry Ford, who were unanimous that they are not yet at the point of needing to make triage decisions, they haven't seen this letter distributed to patients, and administrators haven't talked to them yet about having to implement such a policy.

But the letter outlines a sobering scenario: a major healthcare system informing patients and their families warning some patients will be "very unlikely to survive" even with critical treatment, and "treating these patients would take away resources for patients who might survive." 

“Patients who have the best chance of getting better are our first priority,” the letter reads. “Patients will be evaluated for the best plan for care, and dying patients will be provided comfort care.” 

Credit Michigan Radio
A copy of the draft letter that circulated on social media. A spokesperson for Henry Ford Health System stressed that this is not active policy at this point.

Some of the conditions that could make a patient ineligible for critical care are “severe heart, lung, kidney or liver failure; terminal cancer; or severe trauma or burns.” 

It also warns that patients who do get ventilators or ICU care "may have these treatments stopped if they do not improve over time...This decision will be based on medical condition and likelihood of getting better."

Late Thursday night, Henry Ford Health System released a statement attributed to Dr. Adnan Munkarah, EVP & Chief Clinical Officer:

“With a pandemic of this nature, health systems must be prepared for a worst case scenario. Gathering the collective wisdom from across our industry, we carefully crafted our policy to provide critical guidance to healthcare workers for making difficult patient care decisions during an unprecedented emergency. These guidelines are deeply patient focused, intended to be honoring to patients and families. We were pleased to share our policy with our colleagues across Michigan to help others develop similar, compassionate approaches. It is our hope we never have to apply them and we will always do everything we can to care for our patients, utilizing every resource we have to make that happen.”

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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