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Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

Detroit hospital: 734 employees have tested positive for coronavirus

More than 700 Henry Ford Health System workers have tested positive for COVID-19, the hospital system’s chief clinical officer said Monday.

Dr. Adnan Munkarah said in a statement Monday evening that 734 employees have tested positive for the novel coronavirus out of nearly 2,500 employees who have received tests. The figure represents just over 2 percent of the hospital system’s 31,600 employees. More workers likely have the virus, but have not been tested.

“If we are to test the whole population, you are going to see large numbers of people who are testing positive,” Munkarah had said at a conference call with reporters Monday afternoon. “Testing positive is just a measure of how contagious this virus is.”

Henry Ford officials declined to say how many of the hospital system’s employees have died of COVID-19, citing employee privacy. As Bridge reported last week, at least one of the system’s nurses has died.

Henry Ford also did not provide additional details about workers who have tested positive, such as which jobs they fill within the hospital system, how many of them are still working and how many are out sick. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has said it does not track such numbers. 

“Our team members are our greatest asset and their health and safety is a top priority as we continue to respond to this pandemic,” Munkarah said in the statement. He later added “we know we are not immune to potential exposure and we remain grateful for the courage and dedication of our entire team.”

Henry Ford is among several metro Detroit hospitals to experience a surge in COVID-19 patients as the virus continues to spread in Michigan, pushing their facilities to the brink of capacity.

Metro Detroit is the epicenter of the virus, with 80 percent of Michigan’s cases. The city of Detroit alone has recorded 5,023 cases so far, with 193 deaths. In total, 17,221 Michigan residents have tested positive for the virus, according to numbers the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services released Monday, and 727 have died.

The state Department of Health and Human Services says it does not track how many health care workers have contracted COVID-19, and most Michigan hospital systems have not released their own figures. In addition to Henry Ford, Beaumont Health officials have said “a few dozen” of the hospital system’s employees have tested positive for the virus.

A nationwide shortage of personal protective equipment such as masks and gowns has meant many Michigan health care workers are using the same mask for an entire day or even multiple days. Every time a health care worker removes or re-dons a used mask, they run the risk of transferring virus from the mask to their body. 

So too, doctors and respiratory staff are put at risk when they intubate a COVID-19 patient and put them on a ventilator. Hospital staffers ranging from doctors to nurses, administrative staff and security guards have not had full access to masks or other protective equipment when encountering patients who have not yet been tested for the coronavirus.  

“Unfortunately, I think we’re going to see more health care worker deaths,” from a lack of protective equipment, said Jamie Brown, a critical care nurse at Ascension Borgess Hospital in Kalamazoo and president of the Michigan Nurses Association. “We’re also going to see more health care workers out of work because they’re sick.” 

As Bridge and the Detroit Free Press have reported, the high-risk environment has sparked fear among hospital workers, many of whom feel it is only a matter of time before they become sick. Concerns about dangerous working conditions prompted nurses in the emergency room at DMC Sinai-Grace Hospital in Detroit to stage a sit-in Sunday night. 

Henry Ford Health Chief Operating Officer Bob Riney said hospital system staff are working “24/7” to locate additional masks, gowns, ventilators and other needed supplies. The hospital has also begun to convert anaesthesia machines into ventilators to help ease the strain on available resources.

Of about 900 patients currently in isolation with COVID symptoms at Henry Ford hospitals, about 30 percent are “critically ill,” Riney said. Although the hospital system has managed to discharge 770 patients, Munkarah said new patients continue to be admitted at a faster pace.

“If these numbers do not start slowing down, we won’t have the resources to be able to care for them,” he said.

The information vacuum on hospital workers falling ill or dying from COVID-19 has forced health care workers to scour social media and news headlines to track the disease's spread within their ranks, said Brown, of the Michigan Nurses Association.

"The only reason we know is from the press right now," she said.

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