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734 Henry Ford workers test positive for COVID-19; Beaumont has 1,500 ill employees

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Two of Metro Detroit's largest hospital systems are reporting significant numbers of employees suffering from symptoms of COVID-19 infections.

Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit on Mar. 31, 2020.

Beaumont Health, the state's largest health care system, and Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System say they have at least 2,200 employees who have either tested positive or are home with symptoms of the novel coronavirus infection.

A total of 734 employees at the Henry Ford Health System have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Dr. Adnan Munkarah, the Detroit-based system's chief clinical officer. 

The more than 700 workers testing positive are among a total of 2,500 employees who have been tested for the virus since the hospital began tracking March 12, Munkarah said during a Monday call with reporters. The number of infected workers represents about 2.1% of the five-hospital system's 31,600 employees.

It's not clear whether those employees contracted the virus while at work or through community spread. And the number does not reflect the number of employees currently in quarantine, according to the system.

Henry Ford strictly adheres to personal protection equipment usage during COVID-19 care, requires all employees and visitors to use masks and prioritizes testing for employees, Munkarah said. 

"As a health system caring for a large majority of our region's COVID-19 patients, we know we are not immune to potential exposure, and we remain grateful for the courage and dedication of our entire team," he said. 

Beaumont Health currently has 1,500 of its 38,000 employees staying home because they have COVID-19 symptoms, said Mark Geary, a spokesman for the health system. That's 3.9% of its workforce. The employees are required to stay home for seven days or until they are symptom-free for three days.

"During this period of time, we are not requiring employees to use their paid time off," Geary said.

The Metro Detroit health systems have been among the hardest hit by the virus as they deal with daily influxes of Detroit-area patients. 

More than 80% of the state’s more than 17,220 cases have been centered in the Metro Detroit counties of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb, taxing such hospital systems as Henry Ford, Beaumont Health and the Detroit Medical Center.

The numbers represent a growing concern among those in the industry because of the threat to health care workers and the depleted workforce left to care for the growing number of serious cases, said Ruthanne Sudderth, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Health and Hospital Association.

"That’s why we’ve been really harping on getting adequate PPE (personal protection equipment) to our staff because getting them taken offline by illness hurts everybody," Sudderth said.

"We want to make sure at the very least we can protect them while they’re at work."

The state, which provides daily reports on new confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths, is exploring how to capture data statewide on the number of health care workers who have tested positive for the virus, said Lynn Sutfin, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services.  

A spokesman for the eight-hospital DMC said he didn't have information on the number of employees who have tested positive for the virus.

As of Saturday, at least 3,768 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 across the state, 1,383 were on ventilators and 89% of those hospitalized are in Metro Detroit, Michigan Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said.

As the patient burden at Metro Detroit hospitals grows, so do increasing concerns among employees who, at times, are having to reuse personal protection equipment because of expected shortages.  

On Friday, Southfield-based Beaumont told employees that those wishing to avoid working with COVID-19 patients would have to voluntarily resign, making them ineligible for unemployment or future re-employment with the eight-hospital system. The policy made exceptions for those with medical conditions, including pregnancy. 

On Sunday night, night shift emergency room nurses say they were told to leave DMC's Sinai-Grace hospital in Detroit after they staged a sit-in to demand more support to treat a surge of COVID-19 patients. 

At Henry Ford Health, the number of patients has been steady, but the hospital system also has seen patients recovering to the point of discharge.

But roughly 8 in 10 of the COVID-19 patients in the health system's intensive care units are on ventilators, Munkarah said. On average, those patients have required ventilator support for eight to nine days. 

Munkarah would not say Monday how many Henry Ford Health employees had died because of patient privacy. Last week, 53-year-old Lisa Ewald, a longtime registered nurse with Henry Ford Health System, died in her Dearborn home after testing positive for the virus.

The system's hospitals will need more ventilators if its numbers continue to increase and has already repurposed anesthesia equipment to meet some of its needs, he said. 

Meeting personal protection equipment needs is a "daily battle," Henry Ford Health Chief Operating Officer Bob Riney said. But contributions from such companies as Ford Motor Co., DTE Energy Co. and General Motors Co. have "taken us from being in a catastrophic situation to one that just needs to be monitored."

The hospital has discharged roughly 770 patients who had been treated for COVID-19, Munkarah said. 

"We are very happy to see that happening," he said.