6 takeaways: Henry Ford Health officials say Michigan’s current COVID ‘crisis’ worse than a year ago

‘We are in a crisis. There’s no way around it. There’s no way to sugarcoat it.’

Dr. Adnan Munkarah, of Henry Ford Health System, during a Dec. 15, 2021, COVID briefing. (WDIV)

DETROIT – Officials from Henry Ford Health System provided an update Wednesday on the state of COVID in Michigan, saying the current situation is a “crisis” and worse than a year ago.

“Unfortunately, today, we are in as bad of a situation -- in fact, worse -- than we were a year ago, with respect to our numbers within the hospitals and across the hospitals in this state and in other states,” said Dr. Adnan Munkarah, executive vice president and CCO of Henry Ford Health System.

“The unfortunate reality right now is no matter which hospital you’re talking to, no matter what health system you’re talking to, the word that you’re going to hear about current conditions in the state of Michigan is ‘crisis,’” said Bob Riney, president of health care operations and COO at Henry Ford. “We are in a crisis. There’s no way around it. There’s no way to sugarcoat it.”

COVID hospitalizations in Michigan

“We continue to see a rise in our hospitalizations with COVID patients,” Munkarah said. “As of this morning, we have a total of 500 patients with COVID either in the hospitals or waiting for beds to be admitted.”

That’s a 34% increase in hospitalizations over the past month for Henry Ford Health System.

“These numbers are not easing off,” Munkarah said. “These are not coming down, and we are very, very concerned.”

He said these are the same trends that other hospital systems are seeing, both nationally and locally. In Michigan, COVID hospitalizations are up 10% in the past two weeks, he said.

About 75-80% of Henry Ford’s hospitalizations due to COVID are in unvaccinated residents, and more than 85% of patients in the ICU or on ventilators for COVID are unvaccinated, according to Munkarah.

“The unvaccinated people continue to make the majority of these admissions, and this is what is causing the problem that we are seeing,” Munkarah said.

Officials from Henry Ford Health System provided an update Wednesday on the state of COVID in Michigan, saying the current situation is a “crisis” and worse than a year ago.

Vaccine breakthrough cases

Munkarah said he hears from people all the time that it’s still possible to get infected with COVID, even if you have received the vaccine.

“But based on our numbers, as well as numbers that have been shared by many other health systems nationally, people who are vaccinated are 30 times -- 30 times -- more likely to survive COVID admission than an unvaccinated patient,” Munkarah said.

He said it’s important to remember that while vaccines make it much less likely for someone to get COVID, they also increase the chances of survival for those who do get sick.

Hospital outlook

Riney said on any given day, Henry Ford’s emergency departments are either at or close to capacity.

Oftentimes, they’re even serving as inpatient units because there aren’t any beds remaining in the standard inpatient or ICU areas.

“There are many, many sick people coming through the doors, and the majority of them are with COVID,” Riney said.

Health officials are concerned that the situation could get even worse as people gather for the holidays.

Riney said Henry Ford doesn’t offer walk-up testing in the emergency rooms, so anyone who thinks they have COVID should visit one of the many testing sites around the area, rather than going to hospitals to get tested. Walk-ins are making an already crowded situation worse, he said.

“Combing our soaring COVID numbers with existing staff shortages that have only been made worse by the pandemic -- we’ve got a very troublesome situation,” Riney said. “We want to be clear: If you need emergency care, do not hesitate. Please get to our emergency rooms in a prompt fashion. We are here for you and we will provide that care.

“But if it’s something that can be treated or addressed with your primary care physician, or even at an urgent care center, please consider that first.”

Some hospital beds closed

As of Monday (Dec. 13), 67 beds in the Henry Ford Health System were temporarily closed because of staffing changes. Most of those -- 44 -- were at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Munkarah said. Henry Ford Hospital in Wyandotte had 21 closures.

That’s a relatively small number of closures, according to Munkarah.

“The bigger issue is that we have 500 patients with COVID in the hospitals at the present time,” Munkarah said. “That number has continued to rise, and this is impacting significantly our staff, our care and the ability to provide the best care for our patients going forward.”

He said most health systems around the nation are dealing with this same problem.

Omicron variant

In Michigan, delta continues to be the dominant COVID variant, but omicron is a growing threat around the globe.

“In the past week, we have seen a significant surge in the number of omicron cases (globally) that have been diagnosed, and we anticipate these numbers are going to continue to go up, based on what we know,” Munkarah said.

At least 77 countries have identified a case of omicron so far, according to Munkarah. Considering how fast the variant is spreading, and looking at surges in New York and New Jersey, officials anticipate Michigan’s numbers are only going to climb.

While studies out of South Africa suggest the omicron variant isn’t making people as seriously ill as previous forms of the virus, that patient population is younger, and many have immunity from prior infections, so it’s difficult to compare that situation to what could happen in the U.S., according to Munkarah.

“The information that we’ll be getting from the United Kingdom and from other places around the nation is going to help us because their population’s more similar to ours,” Munkarah said. “We have an older population and our vaccination rate is a little bit different.”

Officials said they’re encouraged that while the vaccines might not be as effective at blocking omicron, they’re extremely effective in terms of preventing hospitalization and death.

“This means when people get infected with omicron, they might not be as sick and might not need to be hospitalized (when vaccinated),” Munkarah said.

Economics message for unvaccinated residents

Riney said he wanted to provide some information about the economic impact of COVID to people who still have not gotten the vaccine.

“Consider this: The economic toll of record-setting COVID with hospitalizations is significant,” Riney said. “This massive number of hospitalizations has led to health care team member burnout in record numbers, which has led to accelerated resignations, which then requires health systems to use all sorts of overtime, bring in temporary agency help, bring in crisis labor, and those are unfunded.”

He said health insurance claims based on soaring hospitalizations are going to provide challenging medical loss ratios in the insurance industry.

“All of that, ultimately, is going to have to be passed onto consumers,” Riney said. “We will be footing this bill every month we do not get COVID under control.”

Riney hopes people who haven’t gotten vaccinated can at least look at the economic fallout and see the consequences of so many people going to hospitals with COVID.


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.