Henry Ford Senior Leaders Describe Grim Assessment of Capacity Caused by Soaring COVID Hospitalizations

December 15, 2021
Bob Riney and Dr. Munkarah

DETROIT (December 15, 2021) – As Henry Ford Health System approaches the one-year anniversary of administering its first COVID-19 vaccinations, senior leaders offered a grim assessment Wednesday of how surging hospitalizations have their hospitals on the brink.

Henry Ford reported about 500 patients in its hospitals, a 34 percent increase in the just the past month. Statewide, hospitalizations are up 10 percent and deaths are up 79 percent in the past two weeks.

Bob Riney, President of Healthcare Operations and Chief Operating Officer, and Adnan Munkarah, M.D., Executive Vice President and Chief Clinical Officer, described the situation as dire, caused by people who are infected with COVID and unvaccinated.

“The unfortunate reality right now is that no matter which hospital you’re talking to, no matter which health system you’re talking to, the word that you’re going to hear about current conditions in the state of Michigan is crisis,” Riney said. “We are in crisis. There’s no way around it. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. On any given day, our emergency departments are either at capacity or close to it, and often times serving as inpatient units because we don’t have beds available in our standard inpatient units or ICUs.

“Our worry is that as we gather for the holidays and we’re all exhausted with the protective measures, we totally understand that, that things could even get worse.”

With its hospitals running at close to 100 percent for months, Riney said they aren’t built to operate at that level for weeks on end. Optimally, hospitals operate at 85 percent capacity to allow for overflow situations.

Dr. Munkarah said 80 percent of patients hospitalized with COVID are unvaccinated and 85 percent of COVID patients in the intensive care unit are unvaccinated. He then shared a striking statistic that bears out the benefit of vaccination.

“People who are vaccinated are 30 times more likely to survive a COVID admission than unvaccinated patients,” Dr. Munkarah said.

Jacqueline Pflaum-Carlson, M.D., a critical care and emergency medicine physician at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, said the overwhelmingly number of COVID patients have taken its toll on her and her colleagues.

“With each passing day and each increased patient load and each death, it gets harder and harder to maintain that positive attitude,” she said, adding a personal plea to the unvaccinated to get their shot.

“Things are hard and we’re doing everything we can and doing our best to keep patients in good care. Have a little grace and consideration in how devastating things are right now.”

She said it has been tragic that so many patients have been led astray by vaccine misinformation.

“It’s so heartbreaking to walk them down this path of death, knowing this was preventable. And watching their family members have to go through this,” Dr. Pflaum-Carlson said.

Friday will mark the one-year anniversary of Henry Ford starting to administer vaccinations. In addition to vaccinating its own team members and patients, Henry Ford has given shots at schools, places of worship and businesses throughout the communities it serves. The health system also served as the medical director and major participant at the Ford Field vaccination site, where more than 275,000 doses of vaccine were administered.

Overall, Henry Ford has administered 380,000 doses of vaccine since Dec. 17, 2020. That includes more than 1,000 doses administered so far to children ages 5 – 11 who became eligible just a few weeks ago.

Dr. Munkarah celebrated the progress that has been made but emphasized more people need to get vaccinated to ease the strain on hospitals. “We have a way of stopping this rise, of bending the curve,” he said. “The unvaccinated people continue to make up the majority of admissions.”

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