The COVID-19 Pandemic One Year Later

March 16, 2021
Bob Riney and Dr. Munkarah

DETROIT (March 16, 2021) – Henry Ford Health System senior leaders Bob Riney and Adnan Munkarah, M.D., on Tuesday shared personal and moving reflections about the COVID-19 pandemic, describing the crisis “like a tsunami and the waves kept coming” and celebrating the “pride of seeing our organization’s culture at work” and stories of inspiration and triumph.

They made their remarks at a media briefing nearly one year after the health system reported its first COVID-19 related death. It was a sobering moment and one that has played out far too often in Michigan, across the United States and worldwide.

“When I reflect on the year, I have many things that I think about,” said Riney, President of Healthcare Operations and Chief Operating Officer. “The first is the pride of seeing our organization’s culture at work. You can talk a lot about a good culture, but it’s ultimately put to test in the most stressful of times. What I saw was a culture of problem solving, not problem identification, but working the problem 24/7. I also saw an organization that was willing to show trust to each other by being vulnerable. By showing they were anxious and showing they were fearful, because that was the way we created ongoing unity and strength as a team.”

Riney said he lost a close friend to COVID-19 early on in the pandemic as Detroit and the metro area became one of the country’s first hotspots.

“I would have never envisioned, on a personal note, that I would be playing a key role in overseeing the management of a pandemic and watching a very, very close personal friend of mine die of COVID-19 at 43 years old in the first few weeks of the surge,” he said. “It became incredibly and deeply personal and real for me from the beginning. This was a very important imprint of a dear friend.”

Dr. Munkarah, Executive Vice President and Chief Clinical Officer, likened the surge of hospitalizations to a “tsunami and the waves kept coming day after day after day.” In the early weeks and months of the pandemic, he said, little was known about how the disease behaved and how to manage it. But “our teams and our communities rose to the challenge.”

“The spirit of can-do, the spirit of commitment that we could come together and keep each other safe and that we treat this infection and learn together how to treat it and now how to prevent it, has been amazing,” Dr. Munkarah said. “We can not say enough, express our gratitude enough to our team, to our healthcare workers who have been on the frontlines day in and day out. We cannot express enough gratitude to our community partners who helped us during the crisis supporting our teams and helping in ways we would never have thought, providing personal protective equipment, food, support, transportation. Most importantly, we want to memorialize the heroism that our communities, our team members and our staff have exhibited in the past year and make us proud to be part of such an institution.”

Henry Ford’s response plan included redeployment of clinical resources to take care of critically ill COVID-19 patients, a robust COVID-19 PCR based screening and testing response and rapid expansion of the use of telemedicine to meet the healthcare needs of patients – to the tune of more than 300,000 telemedicine visits so far in the last year – up from only a few thousand in 2019.

Since the start of the pandemic, Henry Ford has treated more than 41,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 including 11,000 patients who were hospitalized. More than 373,500 highly accurate PCR COVID-19 tests have been performed, with nearly all results returned within 24 hours.

Currently, the health system’s hospitalizations are at their lowest level in five months. However, circulating mutations of the virus are concerning and could impact the gains made so far, Dr. Munkarah said. He urged people to remain vigilant with wearing a mask, social distancing, hand washing and avoiding large crowds.

Dr. Munkarah said the health system has been part of more than 250 COVID-19 related research studies, including serving as study sites for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccine trials, recruiting the highest number of people of color of any study site in these trials.

He pointed to Dec. 17, 2020 as a defining milestone for the health system. That day marked the arrival of the first shipment of Pfizer vaccine and administration of the first doses of vaccine to 500 frontline healthcare workers.

“It was an emotional day and the beginning of a journey that we believe was going to get us out of this crisis,” he said.

Since then, Henry Ford has administered more than 162,000 doses of vaccine and 74,000 people have been fully vaccinated. Those numbers are expected to increase significantly in the coming weeks as more vaccine supply becomes available.

Riney said thoughtful, prudent planning allowed the health system to remain open and operational throughout the pandemic, all with an eye to safety as the most important priority. He said a health and recover initiative has provided invaluable emotional and mental health resources for team members and a COVID-19 Emergency Needs Fund and the Bob and Sandy Riney Helping Hands Fund has provided financial support.

He said Henry Ford is grateful for the overwhelmingly community support and generosity of donated food, monetary donations, medical supplies and well wishes. Henry Ford has received $13 million in philanthropic gifts related to COVID-19 including $9.6 million in direct financial support and $3.4 million in medical related in-kind donations such as PPE supplies, ventilators, hand sanitizer and other items that directly supported medical operations. The community also donated $500,000 worth of meals, snacks and other gifts to support frontline workers.

“Even the parades that were done by other first responders in front of all of our facilities. When you’re faced with a crisis, it’s about infusing energy. And infusing positivity. Our community was phenomenal,” Riney said.

Riney recognized the ingenuity of Henry Ford Innovations for producing more than 2,500 COVID Care Kits for patients who were recovering from home and sourcing and co-developing PPE with local manufacturers that diversified production lines for PPE. He also praised the work of Henry Ford’s teams in Occupational Health and the Global Health Initiative for their leadership administering vaccine across the region including the city of Detroit and places of worship and community centers in Southeast Michigan and Jackson. Henry Ford’s mobile vaccine efforts serve communities of color, with vaccine hesitance, and essential workers and populations that may have technology and other barriers to access and schedule appointments.

“This pandemic has tested us and continues to test us, because it’s not done,” Riney said. “We’ve learned important lessons that will go far beyond just pandemic management and really take us into the future.”

About Henry Ford Health System
Founded in 1915 by Henry Ford himself, Henry Ford Health System is a non-profit, integrated health system committed to improving people’s lives through excellence in the science and art of healthcare and healing. Henry Ford Health System includes Henry Ford Medical Group, with more than 1,900 physicians and researchers practicing in more than 50 specialties at locations throughout Southeast and Central Michigan. Acute care hospitals include Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, MI and Henry Ford Allegiance Health in Jackson, MI – both Magnet® hospitals; Henry Ford Macomb Hospital; Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital; and Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital.

The largest of these is Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, a quaternary care research and teaching hospital and Level 1 Trauma Center recognized for clinical excellence in cardiology, cardiovascular surgery, neurology, neurosurgery, and multi-organ transplants. The health system also provides comprehensive, best-in-class care for cancer at the Brigitte Harris Cancer Pavilion, and orthopedics and sports medicine at the William Clay Ford Center for Athletic Medicine – both in Detroit.

As one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers, Henry Ford Health System annually trains more than 3,000 medical students, residents, and fellows in more than 50 accredited programs, and has trained nearly 40% of the state’s physicians. Our dedication to education and research is supported by nearly $100 million in annual grants from the National Institutes of Health and other public and private foundations.

Our not-for-profit health plan, Health Alliance Plan (HAP) provides health coverage for more than 540,000 people.

Henry Ford Health System employs more than 33,000 people, including more than 1,600 physicians, more than 6,600 nurses and 5,000 allied health professionals.

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MEDIA CONTACT: David Olejarz / [email protected] / 313-303-0606