Trinity Health resumes time-sensitive surgeries, care

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

Livonia-based Trinity Health system has resumed some time-sensitive surgeries and health services that were discontinued due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the health system said.

The national Catholic health care system, with five hospitals in southeast Michigan and another five elsewhere in the state, is the latest Metro Detroit health system to resume non-emergency services as the curve for COVID-19 cases has flattened in recent weeks. 

Hospitals statewide discontinued elective procedures in mid-March under an executive order by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, but many had already stopped non-essential health services in an effort to to preserve personal protective equipment and other resources.

Health systems have struggled to stay afloat due to the losses of revenue, and Trinity, Henry Ford Health System, Beaumont Health and the Detroit Medical Center all have laid off or furloughed staff, cut executive salaries or trimmed benefits to stay afloat. 

Henry Ford and Beaumont Health hospitals resumed critical elective procedures, such as cancer biopsies, in recent weeks. But health care providers have struggled to reassure the public that they can safely return to emergency rooms and doctor's offices now that the surge had abated. 

“We did not resume elective procedures. We are increasing the number of time-sensitive, essential procedures,” said Dr. Jeffrey Fischgrund, chief of Orthopedic Surgery at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak.

The eight-hospital Detroit Medical Center said it continues to abide by the governor's directives, including the limitations on non-essential procedures. 

"We recognize that patients continue to require medical attention for conditions other than those due to COVID-19.  We trust the clinical judgment of our medical staff, and we offer all medically necessary, time sensitive procedures to meet the needs of our patients," the DMC said in a Friday statement.

"If a patient needs a procedure or surgery which their physician believes would risk their health or safety to delay, our hospitals are safe for this care. ... If patients have concerns, they should contact their provider.”

The Michigan Health & Hospital Association and its member hospitals launched a statewide TV and social media campaign on Friday, urging people not to delay medical care.

"Unfortunately, hospitals in Michigan and across the nation are reporting instances of people choosing not to come to the hospital out of concern around COVID-19,"  the association's CEO Brian Peters said in a press release.

"We’re seeing instances of people opting to not go to the hospital even when they are having medical emergencies, need a test or a treatment that is part of their care plan or that can relieve their pain, or to prevent a medical issue from becoming a serious threat to their health."

Trinity includes the Saint Joseph Mercy Health System, which has hospitals based in Ann Arbor, Chelsea, Howell, Livonia and Pontiac, as well as the Mercy Health system which has hospitals in Grand Rapids, Muskegon and Shelby.

Rosalie Tocco-Bradley, the chief clinical officer at Trinity Health, said in a Thursday statement the health system is working with state health officials and the MHA on a coordinated effort to resume non-COVID health services.  

"While we know COVID concerns are still high, we don't want patients' conditions to deteriorate or urgent needs to become emergent due to a reluctance to seek appropriate care," she said. 

Services will be reopened in phases, starting with procedures for health conditions that aren't currently life-threatening but could become so if they not taken care of — such as cancer operations, vascular bypass or diagnostic procedures.

"For the health, safety and welfare of our patients, whose care has been deferred during the initial weeks of the COVID-19 crisis, we are developing a clear pathway to begin safely performing time-sensitive procedures while we also continue to care for COVID-19 patients in the months to come," Tocco-Bradley said.

To keep patients safe, Trinity Health hospitals have COVID-free zones to separate coronavirus patients from those who don't have the virus.  

All patients scheduled for elective procedures are tested for COVID-19, and the procedures are postponed if the result is positive.  

Trinity hospitals continue to ban visitors, and masks are provided and required for everyone who enters. 

"People need to know it is safe to continue to come to the emergency room for any urgent and emergency care need," Tocco-Bradley said.

"We are concerned that people are putting off needed medical care; however, we are well-equipped and capable of handling all emergency care for our community, and have measures in place to ensure the safety of all patients and staff."