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Henry Ford Health System is re-configuring space at its five hospitals to relieve the pressure of an influx of COVID-19 patients at its Detroit and West Bloomfield hospitals, system officials said Wednesday. 

"Today our capacity is quite full at those two hospitals — West Bloomfield and Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit," said Dr. Betty Chu, associate chief clinical officer and chief quality officer. Chu is leading the health system's coronavirus response. 

"We fortunately have the luxury right now of having additional capacity at some of our other campuses."

The Detroit-based health system is creating additional bed space in its outpatient clinics, converting operating rooms to intensive care units and moving non-COVID-19 patients to separate facilities to keep them from becoming infected.

Local industries have stepped up quickly to manufacture masks, face shields and other supplies, said Chief Operating Officer Bob Riney, the system's president of health care operations.

"I would anticipate that we're going to see challenges through early April for sure," said Dr. Betty Chu, associate chief clinical officer and chief quality officer, who is leading the health system's coronavirus response. 

"If we look at 591 positive patients and the number of patients that are hospitalized..., we feel like we're on the rapid acceleration of a growth surge.

"Because of the lack of testing in the population..., it's hard to anticipate the total numbers we're going to have. We would certainly look to other health systems to take care of those patients as well, making sure we can create as much ICU capacity in our own facilities."

Riney said during the conference call that the number of inpatients with confirmed COVID-19 increased from 282 Wednesday morning to 304 as of 1 p.m. Wednesday. Henry Ford hospitals also have 107 patients with pending test results for a total of 411 confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients at their hospitals.

"The numbers are increasing in two-hour increments," he said.

Among the changes to Henry Ford's facilities, health system officials have: 

  • Turned two floors of the clinic building in Henry Ford Medical Center at Fairlane in Dearborn into a 15-bed medical unit for non-COVID patients to accommodate overflow from Henry Ford Hospital and opened a fast track triage center at the Dearborn hospital.
  • Several clinics at Henry Ford Hospital are being moved to other clinic sites across the region to free up space that can quickly be converted to additional treatment beds at the Detroit hospital, which is treating the greatest number of COVID-19 patients. 
  • Converted eight operating rooms at Henry Ford Macomb Hospital into a 16-bed COVID-19 unit.
  • Converted Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital’s surgical units into a dedicated COVID-19 unit, doubling its  intensive care beds to 32 from 18. They also have changed semi-private rooms into single private rooms for potential use as additional intensive care beds. 

The most patients were at Detroit's Henry Ford Hospital, with 139 or more. There also were COVID-19 patients at Henry Ford Macomb, Henry Ford Wyandotte and Henry Ford Allegiance Health in Jackson. 

The number at Henry Ford hospitals was overshadowed by the crush of patients reported by Beaumont Health, which had 635 inpatients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 across its eight hospitals as of late Tuesday.

John Fox, president and CEO of the Beaumont Health, said the state’s largest hospital system was “not at capacity yet” as of Wednesday afternoon. It had more than 500 COVID-19 patients and would be at 600 patients "shortly," he said

“We are growing by 100 patients a day,” Fox said during a Wednesday tele-halconference organized by the Detroit Regional Chamber, adding that “We are doing all sorts of things to create capacity."

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer should use the state’s “medical coordination powers” to better balance the load of COVID-19 patients across the state's health care systems, he said.

Michigan can’t have people driving by a hospital that’s at 10% capacity to go into an emergency room that’s “saturated," Fox said.

The health system leader also said Beaumont is playing with scenarios to add emergency bed space. Beaumont officials talked with Oakland University about using space in dormitories, he said.

The problem with using dorm or hotel space to temporarily house patients is those spaces wouldn’t come with access to laboratories or pharmacies, like hospitals do, Fox said.

“It can get complicated very quickly,” he said. “That’s going to be the challenge.”

Leaders at the Royal Oak-based health system previously said they were nearing capacity for staffing, protective equipment and ventilators.

kbouffard@detroitnews.com

cmauger@detroitnews.com

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