Henry Ford Hospital letter leaks on who gets treatment if there’s a ventilator shortage

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Updated, 8:36 a.m., 3/27/20

As Michigan continues to feel the impact of COVID-19 with 60 deaths and almost 3,000 cases, as of Thursday afternoon, hospitals are struggling to care for patients with shortages in critical medical equipment and hospital beds looming.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health, warned that Michigan “is still on the upslope,” despite a statewide stay at home order, and cases will likely continue to rise for weeks.

A leaked Henry Ford Hospital memo

On Thursday, state officials outlined their new “load balancing plan,” a number of hospitals will be offering up 10% of their usual bed capacity to accept patients from other hospitals that are currently overwhelmed.

Both Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the entire Michigan congressional delegation — Democrats and Republicans — have asked the President Trump administration for personal protective equipment (PPE), like gloves, masks and disinfectants that hospitals are running out of, as well as equipment that aides respiratory health, like ventilators.

Later Thursday, a draft letter from Henry Ford Health System in Southeast Michigan leaked on social media, outlining what would happen if the hospital ran out of intensive care unit (ICU) beds or ventilators. A hospital spokesperson told Michigan Radio that it’s not active policy at this point.

“Please know that we care deeply about you and your family’s health,” the letter to patients and their families begins. ” … We currently have a public health emergency that is making the supply of some of our medical resources hard to find. Because of shortages, we will have to be careful with resources. Patients who have the best chance of getting better are our first priority.”

The letter continues: “Some patients will be extremely sick and unable to survive their illness even with critical treatment. Treating these patients would take away resources from patients who might survive.”*

State medical chief: ‘We are still in the upslope,’ COVID-19 cases expected to rise for weeks

Patients with severe heart, lung, kidney or liver failure; terminal cancer; or severe trauma or burns may not be eligible for critical care, per the letter.

“Patients who are treated with a ventilator or ICU care may have these treatments stopped if they do not improve over time,” the letter says. “… This decision will be based on medical condition and likelihood of getting better.”

The letter adds: “Patients who have ventilator or ICU care withdrawn will receive pain medication and comfort measures” — hallmarks of hospice care.

Almost 500K Michiganders would die of COVID-19 without action, per state model

Henry Ford released a statement to Michigan Radio from Dr. Adnan Munkarah, executive vice president and chief clinical officer:

“With a pandemic of this nature, health systems must be prepared for a worst case scenario. Gathering the collective wisdom from across our industry, we carefully crafted our policy to provide critical guidance to healthcare workers for making difficult patient care decisions during an unprecedented emergency. These guidelines are deeply patient focused, intended to be honoring to patients and families.

“We were pleased to share our policy with our colleagues across Michigan to help others develop similar, compassionate approaches. It is our hope we never have to apply them and we will always do everything we can to care for our patients, utilizing every resource we have to make that happen.”

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Susan J. Demas is a 19-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.