Biden sending new federal medical team to help staff at Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital

Washington — President Joe Biden is sending a new medical team, this time from the military, to Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital to help with staffing amid the surge of COVID-19 cases, a White House official said. 

Bob Riney, president of Henry Ford Health System Operations and chief operating officer, said it's undergoing a two-part deployment of medical aid from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In its first phase, a 30-member team from the National Disaster Medical System deployed to assist Henry Ford Wyandotte, got here Monday and will wrap on Jan. 21. 

A second team from the Department of Defense will follow and aid the health system for 30 days.

"They're not overlapping. They're complementary," Riney said. "Wyandotte continues to be extremely pressed with very high COVID-related hospitalizations as well as others, but they will make that determination based on the conditions."

The team will provide support for 24 inpatient beds and the surgical units, but details are still being worked out by the Department of Defense, he said.

"There is not a silver bullet solution. We have systemic challenges with just incredible volume and very, very tired medical practitioners and, of course, vacancies that we are working to fill. … But (the additional deployment) is a mental boost and a great sign of optimism to our care teams that they are not alone,” Riney said during a Thursday update. "We are very grateful."

Biden announced the additional staff for Michigan on Thursday among military medical staff being deployed to five states in addition to Michigan — New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island and New Mexico — and arriving next week. 

"It's been a long road but what's clear is that we can get through this if everybody does their part," Biden said during the live-streamed announcement. "No matter where you live. No matter your political party, we've got to fight this together."

He urged Americans to get vaccinated for the virus saying "personal choice impacts us all, our hospitals, our country."

Biden is expected to announce Thursday a second deployment of a federal medical team to Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital.

The teams are the first of 1,000 military medical personnel mobilized to complement COVID surge efforts. They'll provide additional medical staffing to provide relief at overwhelmed hospital emergency departments to allow healthcare providers to tend to other critical care, the White House official said.

Biden was to be briefed Thursday on his administration’s efforts to deploy personnel to communities seeing a surge in hospitalizations due to the omicron variant of COVID-19. He is expected to speak with federal surge teams supporting hospitals in Arizona, New York and Michigan.

Four Department of Defense teams have previously been sent to Michigan supporting medical staff at Beaumont Hospital in Dearborn, Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, Covenant HealthCare in Saginaw and Mercy Health Muskegon, according to state health officials.

Henry Ford Hospital in Wyandotte already has a civilian federal staffing team from the National Disaster Medical System that was announced by the state last week after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had requested the help. 

The 30-member civilian team was scheduled to begin treating patients Monday and provide support through Jan. 21. It included advanced practice physicians, emergency department and intensive care nurses, paramedics, pharmacists, and logistics and supply chain personnel.

The White House said that over 800 military and other federal emergency personnel have deployed to 24 states, tribes and territories since Thanksgiving, including over 350 military doctors, nurses and medics. 

The relief for hospital staff comes amid an overwhelming surge in COVID-19 cases in Michigan, with hospitalizations nearing 4,700, the highest in the pandemic so far, according to state data posted Monday. State health officials warned Tuesday that the worsening trend could have severe consequences for the state's health system.

Henry Ford Health System has 520 COVID-19 patients and five children under the age of 17 hospitalized as of Thursday. 

The hospital has 87 beds closed due to staffing challenges, 64 at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, 22 in Wyandotte and a few at Henry Ford Allegiance Health in Jackson.

The hospital is reporting a 36.7% testing positivity rate and, over the last week, the highest positivity was among people 21-30 years old, representing 33% of cases, said Dr. Adnan Munkarah, executive vice president and chief clinical officer for the hospital system.

"This is significantly high, compared to when we were at our lowest, a single-digit rate in the early summer,” Munkarah said. “Most concerning is that of the people are presenting with symptoms, the positivity rate is 50%. This means one out of two people coming in with symptoms is COVID positive.”

The majority, 65% of patients in the hospital, are unvaccinated. Over 90% of patients with breakthrough cases have not received their booster, Munkarah added.

In addition, 593 employees are out of work due to omicron spreading in the community, not work-related spread, Munkarah said.

The eight-hospital health system with more than 32,000 employees has been suffering staffing shortages post-Christmas. In the beginning of the month, 686 employees tested positive in the first week of January.

“The continuous spread of COVID-19 not only puts a strain on health systems because of the number patients we see, but it continues to expose our front-line healthcare workers in getting community spread when they’re not inside our hospitals… which is why we continue to be so concerned about all doing our part to maintain our vigilance and to manage this pandemic,” he said.

State health officials are asking residents to consider where they seek health care with hospital and emergency departments overwhelmed with demand. They said emergency conditions including stroke symptoms, chest pain, difficulty breathing, serious injuries or uncontrolled bleeding should still be seen by an emergency care provider.