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Amid signs that COVID-19 is abating in Metro Detroit, the Henry Ford Health System said Thursday it will reopen its five hospitals for surgeries that were discontinued as coronavirus cases surged last month. 

Henry Ford's hospitals will resume cancer biopsies, cardiac catherizations and other "time-sensitive" procedures unrelated to the novel coronavirus, Henry Ford Health Senior Vice President Dr. Steven Kalkanis said during a Thursday briefing with reporters. 

"We understand that cancer, and transplants, and heart disease and so many other afflictions don't get to wait," Kalkanis said. "They haven't been put on hold just because of this COVID challenge." 

"And so for the sake of being able to be a resource for these critically important patients, we've identified one to two operating suites in each of our five acute care hospitals across the system that are designated specifically as non-COVID operating rooms. These are teams that work only and specifically in these rooms. There's an entire testing and sterilization process both for the patients and the staff who are working in those rooms to make sure we can prioritize these patients and get these cases in as soon as possible."

The Detroit-based health system also is encouraging patients to return to its emergency departments for non-COVID health emergencies. Patients with signs of heart attack, stroke or other serious illness should not be afraid to visit their hospitals, health system officials said.

"We have seen some decreases in COVID patients, which places us more in a plateau phase of this pandemic," said Dr. Betty Chu, associate chief clinical officer and chief quality officer at Henry Ford Health System. 

"This is, of course, great reason for hope," Chu said. "This morning our total hospital admissions was 617, which represents our lowest number since April 1."

Despite the plateau, the use of ventilators and intensive care at Henry Ford hospitals remains high, she noted.  

"We're encouraged by the trend, and we're starting to regain a little bit of hospital capacity. However, it's certainly not a time to get complacent," Chu said. "We do want to stress that everyone continue to follow Gov. Whitmer's stay-at-home directive." 

The operating suites will start opening Thursday and be ramped up at each of the five hospitals "over the next few days and into the coming week," Kalkanas said. 

"We want to be very careful that we do it in a way that preserves our resources so that we still are able to take whatever comes our way in terms of necessity for ICU beds and other inpatient needs. But as of right now we can declaratively say that we're safely in that plateau phase...," he said. 

As of 10 am Thursday, Henry Ford Health System was treating 617 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, according to the Detroit-based health system. Their hospitals had discharged 1,317 coronavirus patients in the past 30 days. 

The average stay for COVID-19 patients at Henry Ford hospitals is more than seven days, with an average of about six and a half days spent in intensive care, the heath system reported. Of people the health system has tested, 5,158 tested positive for COVID-19 and 8,491 tested negative. 

kbouffard@detroitnews.com 

Twitter: @kbouffardDN

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