Whitmer: Regulators investigating reports of Sinai-Grace bodies

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said state regulators are investigating a report of bodies that were stored in vacant hospital rooms at the Detroit Medical Center Sinai-Grace hospital. 

The bodies were shown in photos shared with CNN earlier this week, and The Detroit News reported last week that COVID-19 patients were dying in the Detroit hospital's hallways and nurses were searching for body bags and places to put the dead. Whitmer was asked about the photos during a Friday press conference. 

DMC Sinai-Grace Hospital in northwest Detroit on January 17, 2019.

"We want to make sure that we've got the facts," said the governor, who added that the state is working to coordinate more cold storage. 

State Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs officials were on site at the hospital this week, said department spokesman David Harns, who declined further comment because of the ongoing investigation. 

The photos obtained by CNN allegedly were shared among emergency room staff and showed bodies stacked inside refrigerated units in the facility's parking lot as well as bodies in vacant hospital rooms. 

"It's just incredibly, incredibly sad," Whitmer said. "There's been a lot of tough days in the last six weeks. I'm making decisions that I never could have imagined we'd be confronting as a state."

The governor asked viewers to pause for a moment to contemplate what the photos meant. 

"There are a lot of inconvenient things about this moment that we're all living through and struggling with, but the fact that we're trying to coordinate, as well as getting masks for our front-line providers, cold storage for deceased loved ones of people...that's what the state is working on," she said. 

Detroit has experienced significant mortality rates that have created capacity issues at area morgues and funeral homes, DMC spokesman Brian Taylor said Friday. 

"Patients who pass away at our hospital are treated with respect and dignity, remaining on-site until they can be appropriately released," Taylor said. "Like hospitals in New York and elsewhere, we have secured additional resources such as mobile refrigeration units to help temporarily manage the capacity issue caused by COVID-19."

Sinai-Grace, in particular, has been hit harder than most other Metro Detroit hospitals, he said, because it is the only hospital in northwest Detroit and is surrounded by nursing homes. 

The northwest corner of Detroit appears to have the heaviest load of COVID-19 cases in the city, according to ZIP code data the city released Friday.

The 48235 ZIP code, where Sinai Grace is located, has the highest concentration of cases with 724 people testing positive while the neighboring 48219 has the second highest with 547 cases.

"Among the patient population served by Sinai-Grace, there are extremely high rates of underlying medical conditions such hypertension and diabetes, which puts people at higher risk for COVID-19," Taylor said. "Sinai-Grace Hospital remains dedicated to its mission of providing quality compassionate care to the Detroit community.”

Underlying health conditions put patients at greater risk of contracting severe symptoms of COVID-19 and dying.

Whitmer's press conference came five hours after the governor on Friday said she plans to release more information next week about her plan to reopen Michigan, including details based on the state's regions, economic sectors, and the safety of employees and customers. 

"I’ll be able to share a lot more detail about the thought process and our analysis as we go into next week," Whitmer told The Detroit News

Earlier Friday, the governor announced in a television interview that she hoped for "some relaxing" of Michigan's stay-at-home restrictions on May 1, when her latest stay-home order expires.

The number of COVID-19 cases in Michigan reached more than 30,000 Friday with 2,227 deaths.