Facing Holiday Surge, Henry Ford Senior Leaders Urge Vaccinations, Boosters and Mask Wearing

December 03, 2021
Bob Riney and Dr. Munkarah

DETROIT (December 3, 2021) – Henry Ford Health System doubled down on a message of vaccination and mask wearing as COVID-19 hospitalizations approached levels from surges in April earlier this year and fall 2020 and the new variant Omicron is detected in multiple states.

In a briefing with reporters Friday, senior leaders Bob Riney and Adnan Munkarah, M.D., implored the unvaccinated to get the vaccine, the vaccinated to get a booster and everyone to wash their hands often and wear a mask inside public places and gatherings to slow the spread of infection. The Delta variant remains the dominant coronavirus strain in Michigan and across the country.

“We know we sound like broken records, but we will continue to say that masking, getting vaccinated and being smart about our social gatherings are the ways to do it,” said Riney, President of Healthcare Operations and Chief Operating Officer. “We can get through this, but we need help. And the steps are simple.”

Fourteen days from today will mark the one-year anniversary of the first vaccines administered to Henry Ford frontline healthcare workers. While Henry Ford's workforce is in compliance with its vaccine requirement, just 55.2 percent of Michigan residents are fully vaccinated.

“At the time we were very optimistic that with the right vaccination rate and right vaccination adoption, we’d be able to get the pandemic behind us. It is unfortunate that it’s a year later and we’re still dealing with the same number of hospitalizations or close to what have dealt with a year ago,” said Dr. Munkarah, Executive Vice President and Chief Clinical Officer.

A 21 percent increase in COVID hospitalizations in the past two weeks is straining operations and stretching the limitations of healthcare workers, Dr. Munkarah said. The 420 hospitalizations reported on Friday are close to numbers seen during the last two surges. On Dec. 4, 2020, Henry Ford had 499 patients hospitalized with confirmed or suspected COVID. Currently, Henry Ford Macomb Hospital in Macomb County has the highest number of admissions.

“It is the unvaccinated that are allowing variants like Delta and now Omicron to develop and spread rapidly,” Dr. Munkarah said.

Statewide, hospitalizations are up 36 percent and deaths are up 19 percent in the last two weeks.

Henry Ford has recorded more than 3,000 positive PCR tests in the last two weeks, a 50 percent increase since early October. The age groups with the highest number of cases are people ages 36-40 years old and 56-65 years old.

While some elective procedures have been postponed at several hospitals, Riney said no sweeping changes are currently under consideration. He said community adherence to the proven public health measures put in place during the pandemic would slow infections.

“But we implore the community. Help us to keep the full spectrum of services open that you all need,” he said. “We all lose if we have to postpone procedures.”

Other key highlights addressed at the briefing:

  • Established, eligible patients can now schedule their COVID booster shot at one of Henry Ford’s primary care sites using their MyChart account.
  • The new variant Omicron is cause for concern, though no cases have been detected in Michigan thus far.

“While we are concerned about Omicron and what it may present, it’s important that we not panic,” Dr. Munkarah said. “We know that variants are going to emerge, we know this is typical of these kinds of viruses. We know we have ways to protect ourselves. And we know vaccinations continue to work and science will help us advance any vaccine changes that are needed going forward. What the problem is not the fact we don’t have measures, is that we are not adopting them, so we can protect each other, our loved ones and our community.”

Riney recounted an experience he had rounding recently in an intensive care unit at Henry Ford Macomb Hospital.

“I saw staff working so professionally and diligently to provide care. I talked to the nurse manager and she said, ‘It’s very disheartening. We have a stellar team that is doing exceptional work, but I have 21 beds, 21 patients all covid positive, very ill and not even one of those patients is vaccinated.’

“She said it’s 'heartbreaking for me to tell my staff – please continue to give up your holidays, please continue to work six shifts in a row, please continue to stress yourself beyond imagination', when the perception is the community is not meeting us halfway in this fight. Our staff will never, ever let down a focus on patients and providing their all. But her story really stuck with me as what it might be like through the eye of a nurse that is working tirelessly in this situation.”

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