Facing shortage, Detroit area hospitals could soon deny care to COVID-19 patients 'unlikely to survive'

March 27, 2020, 9:04 AM by  Violet Ikonomova

Patients with severe heart, lung, kidney or liver failure would be ineligible for critical care. (Photo: Facebook, Henry Ford Health).

Metro Detroit-based Henry Ford hospital is preparing for the grim possibility that a shortage of acute-care beds and ventilators could soon prevent it from treating all COVID-19 patients, and has issued triage guidelines that prioritize those with the greatest chance of survival.

"Some patients will be extremely sick and very unlikely to survive their illness even with critical treatment," a notice addressed to patients and families says. "Treating these patients would take away resources for patients who might survive."

Patients will be evaluated to determine their chance of survival and those likely to die will receive "comfort care," the notice says.

Henry Ford Health, which operates five hospitals in metro Detroit, confirmed the validity of the notice on Twitter. 

"With a pandemic, we must be prepared for worst case," it wrote. "With collective wisdom from our industry, we crafted a policy to provide guidance for making difficult patient care decisions. We hope never to have to apply them.

Henry Ford reached bed capacity at its West Bloomfield and Detroit hospitals on Wednesday, and was transferring patients to other locations in its system. 

Metro Detroit has emerged as a coronavirus hotspot, with Wayne among the nation's 10 most infected counties. As of Thursday, there were 2,404 confirmed cases and 52 deaths in the tri-county area. Michigan had a total 2,856 confirmed cases and 60 deaths.

Patients who require extra care in the ICU or a breathing machine will be assessed for eligibility under the plan. Conditions that would render patients ineligible include severe heart, lung, kidney or liver failure; terminal cancer; and severe trauma or burns.

Patients who don't improve over time could also have their treatments stopped.

Those told they can no longer receive critical care will be able to appeal to a clinical review committee.

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