More than 700 workers in the Henry Ford healthcare system have tested positive for COVID-19, the clinical director of the hospital system said on Monday.
Dr. Adnan Munkarah said Monday evening that 734 employees tested positive for the new coronavirus out of nearly 2,500 employees who received tests. The figure represents just over 2% of the 31,600 employees in the hospital system. More workers are likely to have the virus, but have not been tested.
“If we want to test the whole population, you will see a large number of people who test positive,” Munkarah said in a conference call with journalists Monday afternoon. “A positive test is just a measure of the contagiousness of this virus. “
Henry Ford officials declined to say how many hospital workers died from COVID-19, citing employee privacy. As Bridge reported last week, at least one of the nurses in the system has died.
Henry Ford also did not provide further details on the workers who tested positive, such as the jobs they hold in the hospital system, how many of them are still working and how many are sick. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said it does not track these numbers.
“Our team members are our greatest asset and their health and safety is a top priority as we continue to respond to this pandemic,” said Munkarah in the statement. He added later, “We know we are not immune to potential exposure and we are grateful for the courage and dedication of our entire team. “
Henry Ford is one of several Detroit Metro hospitals that have seen an increase in the number of COVID-19 patients as the virus continues to spread in Michigan, pushing their facilities to the edge of capacity.
Metro Detroit is the epicenter of the virus, with 80% of cases in Michigan. The city of Detroit alone has registered 5,023 cases to date, with 193 deaths. A total of 17,221 Michigan residents tested positive for the virus, according to figures released Monday by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, and 727 died.
The state Department of Health and Human Services says it does not track the number of health workers who have contracted COVID-19, and most Michigan hospital systems have not released their own figures. In addition to Henry Ford, Beaumont Health officials said that “a few dozen” of employees in the hospital system were positive for the virus.
A national shortage of personal protective equipment such as masks and gowns means that many Michigan health care workers use the same mask for an entire day or even several days. Whenever a health worker takes off or puts back a used mask, they run the risk of transferring the virus from the mask to their body.
Likewise, physicians and respiratory personnel are endangered when they intubate a COVID-19 patient and place them on a ventilator. Hospital staff, ranging from doctors to nurses, administrative staff and security guards, have not had full access to masks or other protective equipment when meeting patients who have not yet been tested for the coronavirus.
“Unfortunately, I think we will see more deaths of health care workers,” due to a lack of protective equipment, said Jamie Brown, intensive care nurse at Ascension Borgess Hospital in Kalamazoo and president of the Michigan Nurses Association. “We are also going to see more unemployed health workers because they are sick.”
As Bridge and the Detroit Free Press reported, the high-risk environment has created fear among hospital workers, many of whom believe it is only a matter of time before they get sick. Concerns about unsafe working conditions prompted emergency nurses at DMC Sinai-Grace Hospital in Detroit to organize a sit-in on Sunday evening.
Henry Ford Health’s chief operating officer Bob Riney said hospital staff work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to find masks, gowns, respirators and other supplies. The hospital has also started converting anesthesia machines to ventilators to help reduce pressure on available resources.
Of the approximately 900 patients currently isolated with COVID symptoms in Henry Ford hospitals, approximately 30% are “critically ill,” said Riney. Although the hospital system has successfully released 770 patients, Munkarah said new patients continue to be admitted at a faster rate.
“If these numbers don’t start to slow, we won’t have the resources to take care of them,” he said.
The vacuum of information about hospital workers falling ill or dying from COVID-19 has forced healthcare workers to browse social media and headlines to track the spread of the disease among their ranks, said Brown, of the Michigan Nurses Association.
“The only reason we know of comes from the press right now,” she said.