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Beaumont has 1,500 workers with coronavirus symptoms, including 500 nurses

Beaumont is one of at least three southeast Michigan hospitals to close down beds, at least temporarily, because of staffing shortages.

About 1,500 workers — including 500 nurses — are off the job at Michigan’s largest hospital system because of coronavirus symptoms.

The employees at Beaumont Health “have symptoms consistent with COVID-19,” spokesman Mark Geary told Bridge Magazine on Monday. 

He said he didn’t have a count on the number of physicians sickened. The remaining sidelined workers could be anyone “throughout the system,” from front line medical staff to office personnel and others.  

Related: Detroit hospital: More than 600 employees tested positive for coronavirus

The sick count at Beaumont comes the same day that Henry Ford Health System said more than 700 of its workers tested positive for COVID-19. Beaumont, in contrast, did not disclose how many of its 1,500 workers out with symptoms actually tested positive.

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. 

If you work in a Michigan hospital, we would love to hear from you. You can contact Robin Erb at Bridge or Kristen Jordan Shamus at the Free Press.

The combined numbers at Beaumont and Henry Ford are the latest indication of how fiercely the coronavirus has attacked metro Detroit. And they underscore the growing anxiety of hospital workers, most notably nurses, who are in close contact with COVID-19 patients, often without adequate protective gear because of limited supplies. 

Geary said it’s impossible to know how many of the Beaumont employees were exposed through work, by other family members or in the community.

Some employees, he said, are nearing the end of their seven days at home, have no symptoms, and are nearly ready to return to work.

The Southfield-based system, with eight hospitals, employs 38,000. The sick workers include those who perform patient care, as well as those who work in administration and support positions, Geary said. 

The employees are asked to stay home, but not everyone is tested, Geary said. 

Because there is no vaccine or treatment for COVID-19 and testing remains limited, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has encouraged those without severe symptoms to recuperate at home. Still, the CDC has made “symptomatic healthcare workers” a priority for testing.

“Employees are only tested if they present themselves at a Beaumont (emergency center) or curbside screening and meet the guidelines to be tested,” Aaron Gillingham, senior vice president and chief human resources officer at Beaumont Health, told Bridge Monday.  

Beaumont employees must stay home for at least seven days, be fever-free for three days, and have no symptoms before returning to work, Geary said, adding that the seven-day period does not count against workers’ “paid time off.” 

Gillingham said the 1,500 figure — which includes workers who are sick and presumed to have COVID-19 — is a more accurate portrayal of the impact of the virus’ effect.

Beaumont Health told the Detroit Free Press a week ago that at the time it had "only a few dozen of our employees have tested positive for COVID-19.” 

On Monday, the system chose to report the larger number of sick workers, Gillingham said.

The impact on patient care was not immediately clear. Geary said only that Beaumont remains concerned about keeping staff healthy, as all hospitals are concerned during the COVID-19 crisis.

“There has been a lot of focus on beds and equipment,” he said. “We need to focus on staff, too.” 

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