State, feds clear hard-hit Sinai-Grace on staffing, infection control complaints

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
A man wearing a mask walks past Detroit Medical Center Sinai-Grace Hospital in Detroit on April 9, 2020.

The Detroit Medical Center’s Sinai-Grace Hospital has been cleared of alleged violations of infection prevention and nurse staffing requirements following an investigation in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said last month the hospital also was being investigated for reports that bodies had been stored in vacant hospital rooms at Sinai-Grace. 

But the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs said Monday it never investigated the claims because the Bureau of Community and Health Systems only has jurisdiction over the physical structure of morgues. It was not immediately clear which state agency, if any, had conducted an investigation into body storage at the northwest Detroit hospital.

“If a hospital were to expand a morgue within the physical structure of the hospital, BCHS facility engineers would review it to make sure it met the structural requirements,” said David Harns, a spokesman for the licensing and regulatory agency. 

Instead, department officials were on site at the hospital on April 16 on behalf of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to investigate compliance with nurse staffing rules and infection control guidelines, Harns said in a Monday email. 

“The facility was found in compliance, no citations,” Harns said. 

The Detroit News reported April 9 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. 

Days later, CNN released photos that appeared to show bodies stored in vacant hospital rooms at the Detroit hospital and in refrigerated trucks in the hospital’s parking lot. The photos allegedly had been shared among emergency room staff. 

At an April 17 press conference, Whitmer said LARA was investigating the hospital and the state wanted “to make sure that we’ve got the facts.” She said the state was working to coordinate more cold storage for bodies. 

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services continues to work "closely with Sinai-Grace and facilities in Detroit to ensure they have appropriate space for storage of human remains," Whitmer's spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said Monday.

DMC officials, who did not immediately return a call and email Monday seeking comment, said last month that Detroit’s significant mortality rate had created capacity issues at area morgues and funeral homes. 

Sinai-Grace, in particular, has been hit harder than most other Metro Detroit hospitals because it is the only hospital in northwest Detroit and is surrounded by nursing homes. The northwest corner of Detroit consistently ranks as the hardest hit in a zip code-by-zip code breakdown of coronavirus cases in Detroit.

"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," DMC spokesman Brian Taylor said last month. "Sinai-Grace Hospital remains dedicated to its mission of providing quality compassionate care to the Detroit community.”

On Thursday, CMS informed the DMC of the findings, which confirmed the hospital met federal Medicare program qualifications related to infection prevention and Control as well as "antibiotic stewardship."

The state’s review included an examination of facility policies, incident reports, patient medical records, staff records, staff interviews and patient care observations, according to the Thursday letter obtained by The Detroit News.

Because the state investigation found the hospital met federal requirements, “we cannot pursue this complaint further,” wrote Michael Potjeau, principal program representative for CMS-Chicago, Acute and Continuing Care Branch. 

“At the time of the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs’ April 16, 2020 survey, the hospital met the Condition of Participation of Infection Prevention and Control, and Antibiotic Stewardship," Potjeau wrote in a letter.