Henry Ford execs say slight drop in COVID-19 hospitalizations a 'hopeful sign'

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Henry Ford Hospital System officials said Wednesday they're seeing hopeful signs this week that Metro Detroit's fourth pandemic surge might be slowing.

Bob Riney, Henry Ford's president of healthcare operations and chief operating officer, said across its eight hospitals, medical teams are caring for 499 patients infected with COVID-19 and two children younger than 17. It's a decrease from 520 patients on Thursday, he said. 

More than 90% of all hospitalized COVID patients in intensive care units or on ventilators have not received their booster, signaling he said, that "vaccinated patients who received a booster shot retained some additional protection over unvaccinated patients."

"Another hopeful sign that we're seeing is the number of people getting infected every day is also slowing," Riney added. 

As of Wednesday, 33% of all tests taken at the hospital system are returning positive, a decrease from 44% in the first part of January.

"The omicron variant is still extremely contagious and prevalent throughout the community. So it's important that we stay incredibly vigilant with mask-wearing in indoor public settings and obviously vaccinating and boosting," Riney said. "But we will take these trends as a sign of hope and optimism for days to come."

The health system has 77 beds temporarily closed due to staffing issues, including 55 at its main hospital in Detroit, 22 in Wyandotte, and one at Allegiance in Jackson. Last week, there were 87 closed beds.

As of Wednesday, 4,453 adult and 114 pediatric patients are hospitalized with confirmed infections in the state.

During the fourth COVID-19 surge, federal medical teams have been assisting at Beaumont Health's Dearborn location, Henry Ford Wyandotte, Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, Covenant HealthCare in Saginaw and Mercy Health Muskegon. 

Henry Ford has 473 team members out sick, a decrease from 593 a week ago, Riney said.

Eric Wallis, Henry Ford's senior vice president and chief nursing officer, said there are 1,000 nursing vacancies and that officials have short and long-term strategies to address them.

The health system is recruiting nurses from the Philippines and hopes to have its first group join this summer. Between 20 to 50 nurses at a time will be brought in as they relocate to Michigan. The health system is working to build a community for them to easily transition.

"We have a number of Philippine nurses who were recruited back in the 90s, who are still very much a part of our healthcare system, who have volunteered to be engaged in this effort so that we do it better than it was done 30 years ago," Wallis said. 

They've also partnered with Michigan State University to increase nursing rotations with students as the number of students who are enrolling in nursing schools have increased 5% annually. 

Wallis said the health system is exploring ways to enhance pay practices and other incentives to attract and retain nurses. In the coming months, they will also utilize technology to automate processes that now take up a large amount of time during bedside nurses' shifts.

"We're seeing record numbers of folks trying to enroll in nursing schools to join the health care profession because they've seen the value of nursing and they've seen the value of health care throughout this," Wallis said. "We've got tough challenges in front of us but it is encouraging to see that people still want to be involved in this profession that really is a sacred privilege."


Twitter: @SarahRahal_