[EDITOR NOTE: The original article has been updated to include a response from the state.]
John Fox, CEO of Beaumont Health, the state’s largest hospital system, lashed out Sunday at a lack of communication among hospitals and state health officials as Michigan struggles with a surge of patients during the coronavirus crisis.
With COVID-19 cases and death counts rising steeply, particularly in metro Detroit, Fox cited frustration with data-sharing among hospital systems, which he said can mean delays as patients wait hours at times to be shifted to a hospital with more available resources, potentially putting patients in danger.
“If somebody has to wait 12 hours in one of our ERs, but they can be seen within two hours, five miles away, I think we have a moral obligation to tell the patient,” Fox said in a phone interview Sunday with Bridge Magazine and the Detroit Free Press.
Sunday evening, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services acknowledged that not all hospitals are “regularly reporting” patient and other data during the pandemic, as MDHHS had ordered. The state agency vowed that it would provide “improved additional information” within days.
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Fox said that, just over a week ago, Beaumont’s Farmington Hills emergency room was so “slammed” that patients were waiting in the parking lot as doctors scrambled to find nearby emergency rooms to send them to — a routine practice when one hospital gets overloaded. Fox noted that waiting room capacity is even harder to manage as staffers seek to keep arriving patients distanced from one another.
Stories from the front
Bridge Magazine and the Detroit Free Press are teaming up to report on Michigan hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic. We will be sharing accounts of the challenges doctors, nurses and other hospital personnel face as they work to treat patients and save lives.
Nearly all the patients that day had symptoms of COVID-19, Beaumont spokesman Mark Geary added.
Fox blamed a lack of “accurate, real-time data” as contributing to delays in finding other hospitals to send newly arriving patients.
“It’s time sensitive. You don't get better by sitting in an ER waiting room or out in a parking garage,” Fox said.
Ultimately, Fox said Sunday, it’s up to the state to collect and disseminate the information.
“Part of the role of governments is to pull us together in times of crisis when we need a coordinated response,” he said.
On March 24, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon signed an order requiring hospitals to submit daily reports to the state that include information about bed and ventilator capacity, patient census, and supplies, as well as information on staffing shortages and areas the facility had dedicated to COVID-19 patients.
The response has been less than uniform, Lynn Sutfin, MDHHS spokesperson, wrote in an email Sunday evening to Bridge and the Free Press.
The state has received reports from “many hospitals, with Beaumont health system reporting robustly into the system,” but others aren’t filing regular reports, she wrote.
The state is “working to improve response rate into the system and plans to include improved additional information in the coming days."
For his part, Fox wouldn’t name hospitals he said he suspected of not sharing information.
“I'm not going to throw rocks at anybody,” he said.
Patients were waiting outside a “slammed” ER at Beaumont Health in Farmington Hills recently, and a lack of real-time information delayed finding providers to accept the overflow, said Beaumont’s CEO John Fox.
Elsewhere in the U.S., hospitals have tried to set aside competition to respond to the pandemic.
In New York, private and public hospitals have partnered to create a single hospital system to deal with the projected increase in coronavirus patients, with a goal to share information, supplies, staff and patients across the state.
"The distinction between private and public hospitals has to go out the window,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo Cuomo said at a news conference Tuesday.
In South Florida, five nonprofit hospitals also have traded in competition for collaboration.
The need for a coordinated response is “something much bigger than the needs for each of our institutions. It’s really for the needs of our entire community, said Carlos Migoya, CEO of Jackson Health in Miami.
As it turned out, Fox said, the University of Michigan health system was able to accept the Farmington Hills patients to help “load-balance” patients — a term describing efforts to more evenly distribute patients among health systems.
But two days later, the Farmington Hills emergency room was “slammed” again, Fox said.
With the crush of COVID-19 patients not yet at its expected peak, hospitals could become “super saturated,” he said. As of Sunday, Michigan has 617 deaths and 15,718 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus.
By midmorning Sunday, Beaumont — which since March 19 has shared its patient counts publicly — was caring for 1,074 confirmed COVID-19 patients systemwide.
While a lack of personal protective equipment has been well reported and hospitals are still scrambling for gowns and masks and other supplies, many Michigan businesses have begun to contribute gear by transforming manufacturing lines to production lines of personal protective equipment.
Supply donations from other sources are flowing in as well, Fox said in the interview.
The concern now is patient-loading so that Michigan’s health care system can manage the flow of treatment during the expected surge of patients in the coming weeks, Fox said.
“The state is very focused on how many beds you have available,” Fox said. “Our biggest limitation right now is not PPE. It’s not mattresses. It’s people.”
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