Michigan hospital officials cite first signs of early progress since COVID omicron surge

COVID hospitalizations, positivity rate both down from last week, officials say

For the first time since the start of the COVID omicron surge in Michigan, hospital officials with the Henry Ford Health System said they’re starting to see some signs of early progress.

DETROIT – For the first time since the start of the COVID omicron surge in Michigan, hospital officials with the Henry Ford Health System said they’re starting to see some signs of early progress.

“These trends are aligning and pointing in the right direction,” said Bob Riney, president of health care operations and COO at Henry Ford Health.

You can watch the full briefing in the video posted above.

Tide turning for COVID hospitalizations?

“After weeks and weeks of giving you really sobering news, I’m really happy to report that we are starting -- I emphasize ‘starting’ -- to see a trend that we hope will continue, of decreased hospitalization,” Riney said.

Overall, the number of COVID hospitalizations at Henry Ford hospitals has declined since Monday (Jan. 17), when there were 551 such patients. As of Wednesday morning, that total had dropped to 499, according to officials.

Two children under the age of 17 are among those hospitalized, Riney said.

“This is a very encouraging sign and certainly what we hope will be the beginning of a trend,” Riney said. “But it’s obviously too early.”

He said 499 COVID patients is still a “staggering” number for Henry Ford Health.

“But we are pleased that it is trending in the right direction,” Riney said.

Importance of COVID booster shots

Riney emphasized that there is a strong correlation between COVID hospitalizations and people who have not received a booster shot.

“More than 90% of all hospitalized people for COVID or in an ICU or on a ventilator did not receive a booster,” Riney said.

Once the original series of vaccines has been completed, residents should get boosted when eligible, he said.

“The numbers strongly, strongly support this,” Riney said. “We know that vaccinated patients who received a booster shot retain some additional and significant protection over unvaccinated patients.”

That protection includes a decreased chance of becoming seriously sick -- or even having symptoms at all -- from COVID, according to health experts.

Infections slowing?

Riney said another possible positive sign is that the increase in the number of people getting infected with COVID in Michigan is starting to slow.

“This morning, our positivity rate for all lab testing was 33%,” Riney said. “That is down from 44% that we were trending in the first part of January.”

The omicron variant is still extremely contagious and prevalent throughout the community, so residents must continue to wear masks and practice distancing indoors, Riney said.

“But we will take these trends as a sign of hope and a sign of optimism for days to come,” he said.

Workers out, beds shut down due to COVID

As of Monday, Henry Ford Health System had 77 beds temporarily closed due to staffing issues.

Riney said 54 of those beds are at Henry Ford Hospital, 22 are at Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital and one is at Henry Ford Allegiance in Jackson.

Last week, the hospital system had 87 beds shut down due to COVID issues among staff members.

“So again, a theme of some numbers trending in the direction that we’d like to see,” Riney said.

There are currently 473 Henry Ford Health employees not working due to being COVID positive, he said.

“Again, putting a substantial burden and pressure point on our organization, but down from 593 a week ago,” Riney said. “So, 473 off is 473 too many, but it’s certainly an improvement.”

Stress on nurses

Dr. Eric Wallis took over as senior vice president and chief nursing officer for Henry Ford Health System on Dec. 1 after holding the position of president of Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital since 2019.

Wallis said the years-long COVID pandemic has created major challenges for nurses. He cited data from the American Hospital Association that found nurse staffing demands in hospitals have increased by up to 245% through the pandemic.

“Nurses have been leaving the health care workforce at record rates, and that has led to increases in job vacancies across the country, in some cases by as much as a 30% increase in vacancies since 2019,” Wallis said.

Henry Ford Health System currently has about 1,000 registered nursing vacancies, he said. That rate is very similar to other health systems in Michigan and across the country.

Wallis said Henry Ford Health has made progress in its efforts to recruit nurses in the Philippines. Officials hope those nurses can join as early as this summer.

Some Michigan State University nursing students are doing clinical rotations within Henry Ford hospitals -- a program the health system is hoping to expand even further.

Free at-home COVID tests

The federal government is offering residents free at-home COVID tests, and Riney hopes that will contribute to trends continuing in the right direction.

He said early detection can help people with behavior change, such as quarantining and reducing exposure to others after a positive test.

“I also think that there’s a value of getting this testing equipment out there because it tells people that we need their help, that we need them to partner with us, and we’re removing barriers in them being that partner,” Riney said. “Removing economic barriers with tests, as well as just ease and convenience.”

Getting the message out and helping people take positive steps toward slowing the spread is a reason the trends have started to turn in a more positive direction, he said.

About the Author:

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.